30 Aug 2019

Government responds to bid for Māori intellectual and cultural property rights

11:12 am on 30 August 2019

Nearly 30 years after Māori lodged a bid for legal protection for their intellectual and cultural property rights, the government has finally issued a formal response.

Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Maori Development and Local Government being interviewed in te reo Maori by Maori TV.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta says three new ministerial groups will look at how existing legislation might need to be amended. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Māori leading the claim - known as Wai 262 - want greater protection and authority over indigenous plant species, traditional knowledge, Māori symbols and designs, whakairo, wāhi tapu, biodiversity, and other taonga Māori.

The Waitangi Tribunal released Ko Aotearoa Tēnei in 2011, a report recommending the government establish a new commission to protect Māori cultural works against unauthorised commercial use, and amend laws covering the Māori language, resource management, patents, and environmental protection.

Yesterday, the government quietly released its first ever formal response to the claim, a 50-page proposal on how it plans to tackle the issues raised in the tribunal's report.

It is proposing to create three new ministerial groups, which will cover specific areas including taonga works, taonga species and the protection of taonga internationally.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta said each group would look at how existing legislation - relevant to each focus area - might need to be amended.

"Every country has a way of ensuring that there is a domestic, legislative framework to protect intellectual property. In a New Zealand context, we don't really have a way to protect the Māori interests within that context," she said.

"For example, copyright laws, patents and trademarks. How could we better be able to ensure that Māori are provided for?"

Details about which ministers will participate in each group are yet to be decided.

A ministerial oversight group will also be established to track the government's progress.

Aroha Mead, an expert in Māori intellectual property rights, said after a long wait, the government's response was a milestone.

"It's the lowest profile that I've ever seen of a government announcement, and I think perhaps that was deliberate because it has been so long," she said.

"I'm happy to see that a milestone has been reached and that is that the Crown has responded, because the lack of response has hung on everybody's shoulders."

She said the taonga-works focus area looked very promising.

"This whole area, about the misappropriation of Māori culture and art forms and music and how to give better protected will become a concerted, work programme going forward.

"That's really good to see that we're finally going to get some movement in this area."

But Rahui Katene, the daughter of one of the original claimants John Hippolite, was concerned the government may be reviewing existing legislation which might not be relevant to the claim.

"We want to see if its work that they're doing that is actually appropriate, relevant, actually addresses the claim and, if it's not, we want to be able to say, look you need to be working in this area more than what you are doing at the moment."

While her father is not here to see the outcome of a 20-year-long fight, she's sure he would be pleased progress is being made.

"I think he'd be happy that the Crown is involving Māori at different levels. This is all positive and needs to be right out there in public view, and I think dad would be very happy about the transparency."

Consultation with Wai 262 claimant representatives, iwi leaders and other relevant groups on the proposed framework will begin next month.

You can view the government's full response here.

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