Whānau Māori developing under-utilised freehold land is the focus of a new $56.1 million government investment.
Minister of Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta and Minister of Justice Andrew Little made the pre-budget announcement in Gisborne this morning.
There is 1.4 million hectares of whenua Māori under freehold title - much of which is not being used or developed.
The money to be used over four years will help implement the Whenua Māori Programme and will go towards regional advisory services in Te Tai Tokerau, Waiariki and Te Tai Rawhiti.
Ms Mahuta said the investment was about getting whānau actively involved in how they can make their whenua work for them and future generations.
"This announcement is to encourage whānau who have not currently been in a position to organise themselves to utilise their land or to even think about that ... we are signalling that the future of regional growth and opportunities should include opportunities for more whānau to develop their whenua."
The funding will also go towards the creation of a Whenua Knowledge Hub and website, new and enhanced services for the Māori Land Court, the modernisation of the Māori Land Court information systems and support for legislative amendments to Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993.
Ms Mahuta said the programme would support Māori landowners, trustees and whānau to establish ownership interests and governance structures.
She said the opportunities were limitless and this would enable whānau to start engaging in kōrero about what they can do with whenua and make it happen.
"In many cases we aren't talking about big parcels of land, we are talking about land that can have mixed used, a little bit of native stock forestry, honey with papakāinga alongside.
"What we want to ensure is that whānau see the potential of collaborative investment, often many land blocks are situated together and under-utilised but if whānau start talking across their land blocks and looking at it as a bigger area then more can be achieved."
The programme is being led by Te Puni Kōkiri, and Mr Little said the changes for the Māori Land Court would support landowners to access justice services.
"The introduction of a tikanga-focussed dispute resolution service offers Māori landowners a way to settle matters outside of a formal court hearing."
Earlier this year the government announced $100 million of the Provincial Growth Fund to go towards supporting Māori land owners to make better use of their land.
Ms Mahuta said that money was focussed towards landowners who were already utilising their land and to increase productivity and the challenges of having access to capital investment to be able to do that.
She said this new round of pūtea was for those starting from scratch.
"The more investment we put at this end of getting whānau actively engage in developing their whenua that is currently under-utilised - they will be able to plug in to the Provincial Growth Fund set aside."
'A real tino rangatiratanga piece'
Māori Trustee Charlotte Severne says new funding to help develop Māori freehold land will provide great opportunities for whānau.
Te Tumu Paeroa looks after 7 percent of Māori land.
Ms Severne said the funding was a new and exciting approach in getting whānau involved in their land.
"I am very excited and really pleased people who can address the challenges facing Māori freehold land owners and those opportunities are actually all in the room and over this. This is new and exciting for us."
Access to information had been one of the major road blocks to people using Māori freehold land and the programme would help change that, she said.
"It's been a real mix bag and very difficult for land owners to navigate and what this opportunity provides for them is high quality information in one place and then the chance to make their own management themselves. It's a real tino rangatiratanga piece."
Success for Māori land looked different for all whānau but what made it work was simple, she said.
"The ones that work are the ones where you have sustainability of engagement so that owners are able to engage and to make sure that the people taking over the responsible trustees roles, administrative roles, custodian roles, that they have the interests of the owner right front and centre of their business, that's when it works."