23 Jul 2019

Ngāpuhi negotiations await replacement of non-viable Tūhoronuku mandate - Little

10:27 pm on 23 July 2019

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little says he cannot understand why the previous government ever accepted Ngāpuhi's problematic Tūhoronuku mandate.

Andrew Little speaks to media at parliament 30 April 2019

Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Mr Little was in Waitangi at the weekend to meet combined hapū for the first time since they rejected the revised version of the controversial negotiation plan last year.

In 2014, the former National Party government accepted the mandate for settlement negotiations led by Ngāpuhi rūnanga chair Sonny Tau.

There were immediate and ongoing objections from hapū who said the people appointed to Tūhoronuku did not represent them.

The Waitangi Tribunal subsequently found the mandate was flawed, and the Crown - which spent $6m on the process - had recognised an empty structure.

Mr Little assured the hui on Saturday that the Tūhoronuku mandate was not viable.

"There is no viable mandate in place and the Crown won't be entering into negotiations until there is a clear level of confidence about hapū representation," he said.

Speakers at the hui urged Mr Little to go further and formally withdraw the Crown from the mandate, saying Ngāpuhi could not move forward until that happened.

Ngāpuhi historian Manuka Henare, who was at the hui, told RNZ he agreed the Minister should scrap the mandate and start with a clean slate.

Dr Henare said that would go some way to restoring the trust hapū had lost in the process.

"I'm of the same view - the opposition to Tūhoronuku is significant and if it stays around, [this process] is going to be crippled because the other legs don't want it. So I think this is a good opportunity to say 'let's start again'."

Speaking after the hui, Mr Little said formally withdrawing the Tūhoronuku mandate was an option but first he would like some idea of what would replace it as a framework for negotiations.

He said it was unclear to him why the mandate was ever accepted in the first place.

"I think at some point the Crown would do well to have some deeper reflection about where things got to; a lot of these things go back a long time, and it's certainly something I'd be keen to go back over in greater depth, with the records and even my predecessors to see how we got to the point we did."

Andrew Little said some of Ngāpuhi's 100-plus hapū had formed alliances and were keen to start negotiations, while others were not ready and were telling him not to divide them.

"This is what requires the wisdom of Solomon: to know what the next and best step is that's going to maintain the faith and the integrity and pay respect to all the whakaaro that have been put forward today."

Other speakers at the hui demanded to know when the government would respond to the Waitangi Tribunal report that found the 1835 Declaration of Independence had established Māori sovereignty and that Ngāpuhi did not cede that sovereignty when they signed Te Tiriti five years later.

Mr Little said that was an important conversation the Crown would need to respond to but it did not alter the fact successive governments had breached Te Tiriti - in ways that had profound and devastating effects on hapū - and those had to be remediated.

"In the case of Ngāpuhi, these have been egregious breaches and the longer we go with other iwi around the motu, achieving agreement with the Crown, then Ngāpuhi hapū get left behind so we've got to find the right way to do that."

Ngāpuhi claimant Dover Samuels, who was a Māori Affairs Minister in Helen Clark's Labour government, said at his age of 82 he was anxious to see some return for all the years of struggle towards settlement.

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

He said there was a way the government could help in the meantime.

"They've got an idea of the quantum of the settlement - why not put aside $300 million or $400m of that as a goodwill gesture and appoint Trustees who could use the interest from that investment to provide perhaps education, housing for many of the desperate communities in Tai Tokerau and Ngāpuhi."

Mr Little said he would be taking the points raised at the Waitangi hui back to his cabinet colleagues.

The government would need to think carefully and cautiously about its next step in the Ngāpuhi Treaty settlement process, he said, but promised he would be back he and that there would be a next step.