23 Apr 2019

Andrew Little accused of steamrolling opposition and continuing with Treaty settlement

9:02 am on 23 April 2019

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little is again being accused of steamrolling ahead to finalise treaty settlements despite desperate pleas for him to stop.

Andrew Little

Andrew Little says he hopes to have a Waitangi Tribunal inquiry in place as soon as possible. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi Whakatōhea voted overwhelmingly to halt its Treaty negotiations with the Crown last year, but the minister has since signalled his intention to continue.

Whakatōhea has been trying to reach a settlement with the Crown for 20 years.

But the same big decisions many iwi struggle to make, such as who should represent them in negotiations and what its treaty settlement redress should look like, continue to divide its people.

Last year, an iwi-wide vote was held to help Whakatōhea find a way forward.

Ngāti Ira hapu claimant Te Ringahuia Hata said the results spoke for themselves.

"Seven out of seven hapū, unanimously, 100 percent, want the negotiations stopped to hold a tribunal inquiry. That's what we all voted on and that's what we expect."

However, Mr Little has other ideas.

While the iwi voted overwhelmingly to halt negotiations it also voted by a slim margin in support of the Whakatohea Pre-Settlement Trust continuing to represent the iwi in talks with the Crown.

Because of this Mr Little decided to continue pushing ahead with negotiations while the Waitangi Tribunal Inquiry into historical grievances is carried out.

"We made the judgement as the Crown that we would support the tribunal in doing an inquiry but at the same time we would continue negotiations to the extent that it doesn't compromise what the tribunal might later rule on."

His decision has left many in Whakatōhea, including Ms Hata, in disbelief.

She said it was not what the people asked for.

"When we all voted for a tribunal inquiry it was under the condition that the negotiations would stop," she said.

"So he'll explore options and the option of holding an inquiry subsequent to negotiations and that doesn't make any sense at all because the whole point of holding a historical inquiry is so that we get a report and that report forms the foundations, forms the basis, for us to negotiate."

The Crown has been accused of rushing to finalise Treaty settlements in the past.

Just last year a damning report by the Waitangi Tribunal said the Crown was rushing its negotiations with Whakatōhea, at the expense of giving the iwi a fair hearing, in order to achieve its objective of finalising all treaty settlements by 2020.

Karen Mokomoko, a claimant for Mokomoko hapū, said it was time for the Crown to stop and listen to the people.

"Look at Ngāpuhi and other areas. Christopher Finlayson has just caused divides throughout the whole country and it's just gonna get worse.

"Until they actually listen and hear what we're saying, they won't understand why we need this process to stop, rather than just steamrolling ahead and making things so that it'll come a time where it's too late."

She said a Waitangi Tribunal Inquiry must come before negotiations with Whakatōhea continue.

"If the settlement is already negotiated then, truly, for what purpose id the historical inquiry?"

"The people of Whakatōhea are very divided and to get an enduring settlement, and enduring is the key word, it needs to be on a united front for Whakatōhea."

The vote found a slim majority of Whakatōhea support the Whakatōhea Pre-Settlement Trust to continue representing them in negotiations with the crown.

Mr Little said he wanted to honour that aspect of the survey too.

"There was a majority who wanted negotiations to continue, admittedly with a slim majority, but nevertheless a majority.

"But that is why I think the Crown took a view that is was about trying to respect both parts of the decision and have both parts happening."

Mr Little said he hoped to have a Waitangi Tribunal Inquiry in place as soon as possible.