26 Nov 2019

Crown admits it will miss Treaty settlements 2020 deadline

12:11 pm on 26 November 2019

The government is abandoning a controversial goal to settle all historical Treaty claims by next year.

Andrew Little speaks to media at parliament 30 April 2019

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little is aiming for final settlements to be completed by 2025 instead. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little has conceded the Crown will miss the deadline, as 18 hapū and iwi groups swap negotiations for litigation.

In 2014, the Labour Party pledged it would have all historical Treaty claims settled by 2020. It was a long-held goal of the previous National government to also meet the deadline.

However, Mr Little said he had to work with what was before him now and that deadline was no longer achievable.

"There are a lot of iwi we are engaged with at the moment and a lot of iwi who we thought we might actually have reached agreement with now but we haven't," he said.

"No-one is going to say, 'we have got this far and look we are months off 2020 or it is 2020, and so we either reach agreement this year or we don't' - no-one is going to say that."

There are about 50 hapū and iwi groups yet to reach final settlement but about half of them have put their negotiations with the Crown on hold.

Seventeen groups have taken cases to the Waitangi Tribunal and one to the High Court over the settlement process, including mandates, overlapping interests, and other aspects of government policies.

Mr Little said that level of litigation was slowing things down.

"That's a lot - but it's not an uncommon response when iwi feel as if either they have not been treated fairly, or there are challenges, particularly with cross claims, and the process is not good - so that's what happens."

He said he was committed to having all willing and able iwi to commence negotiations with the Crown by mid-2020 instead, with an aim to complete final settlements by 2025.

For the past 10 years, Northland iwi Ngāpuhi have been unable to progress their claims - stuck in a debate over who should represent them in negotiations.

But the new acting chair of the rūnanga, Mere Mangu, said it was the Crown's processes driving the division.

"The Crown as it stands now has no idea how to deal with Ngāpuhi really," she said.

She said it had been a terrible process to date.

"I am not sure I want to lead Ngāpuhi into that same process when you already know what the outcomes are, and the hurt and everything else that affects the whānau."

Māori law expert Carwyn Jones, from Victoria University, said reaching settlement was complex and negotiating with the Crown to reach an agreement was new territory for many iwi leaders.

He said deadlines increased the pressure to get an agreement across the line, but the number of groups in litigation should be telling.

"What it seems to suggest to me is the process itself has not been taking sufficient time in order to get these things right," he said.

"It has been one where the Crown has tried to set the parameters and clearly that is not working for these groups."

Dr Jones said setting targets was fine, but he cautioned against the use of hard deadlines because it sends the wrong message to Māori.

"It might work in the short term in terms of forcing people into agreements," he said.

"But it doesn't work in terms of achieving durable, long-lasting settlements, which the Crown says it is aiming to do."

Mere Mangu said the Crown was calling all the shots and that did not equate to a partnership under the Treaty.

She said she wanted to see deadlines on final settlements scrapped.

"We are not going to be bound by deadlines - we are going to be bound by meaningful and truthful negotiations at a table where we are brought up onto a level playing field - then we can look across the divide together."

Mr Little said deadlines could put Māori under immense pressure but he did not want to see some iwi lagging others behind without the financial base provided through settlement.

He said he was open to extending deadlines a bit further if it meant maintaining good relationships with iwi.

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