Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 27 November 2014

Better relationships with Maori

One of the most crucial political and social determinations the Far North District Council will make in its current term of office is the question of how best to develop new levels of partnership with our Maori community. With people of Maori ethnicity making up close to half the population of the district, it is critical that meaningful relationships are developed with iwi and hapu if we are to progress as a district. Early in the New Year we will conduct a public poll which will seek a simple yes or no response on whether the Far North District Council should have dedicated seats at the Council table for Maori. This is a decision which has to be made by the community rather than the Council. If the community's answer is 'yes', we will take this into account when we conduct a mandatory review of boundaries and representation arrangements before the next local elections.

Of course, reviewing Maori representation is only one part of the picture. We will also continue to look at non-electoral options for improving relationships and dealing with other issues that concern Maori. High on the priority list is the historically vexed issue of rates on Maori land. For more than 50 years, we have struggled to find the right approach. As a consequence, the owners of land that is in Maori freehold title have progressively been disenfranchised, their connections with their ancestral land severed and their ability to settle on their land and derive an income from it negated.

We think we may now have found an approach which will bring the land back into production and provide an enlightened basis on which rates will actually be paid moving forward. From the number of inquiries we have been getting from Maori freehold land owners, it's clear they share our views and want the partnership developed further.

There are still some issues to be resolved with the Maori Land Court. In the longer term, there may be a need to change the law underpinning the way valuations are set on land in Maori title so that the rates charged are more in line with those charged on land held in General title. It is essential that these formal relationships are developed as quickly as possible so we can all move ahead positively. What nobody needs is vexatious issues surrounding Maori land still unresolved with the prospect of Treaty settlements just around the corner.

Even the Local Government Commission has acknowledged there are relationship issues which are going to have to be addressed and is working with the Northland Iwi Leaders Forum on a non-elective Maori representation model which could be incorporated in any reorganisation plan.


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