5 Feb 2009

Maori leaders urge action over ailing economy

10:09 pm on 5 February 2009

Maori leaders have used a closed door meeting with Prime Minister John Key at Waitangi to push for action on the New Zealand economy.

They have told Mr Key they are not against further privatisation of state assets - as long as Maori are involved.

The National Iwi Chairperson's Forum was held on Thursday as news broke that the unemployment rate has hit a five-year high.

Official figures showed the number of people out of work reached 105,000 at the end of December.

Mr Key says the Maori economy is overly dependent on what is happening overseas.

He says about 61% of the Maori economy is exposed to international trade through agricultural, fishing and forestry assets "nearly double what the Pakeha economy is in terms of exposure".

Among the issues discussed at the meeting were Treaty settlements, economic development and infrastructure, and ownership of water.

Tainui chairperson Tukuroirangi Morgan says Mr Key was positive about the proposal for a special Treaty cabinet committee, which iwi would deal with for all Treaty issues.

"What we wanted to do was to remove any confusion or any debate over the people that we prefer to deal with across this country. They are the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Maori Affairs and the Minister of Treaty Negotiations."

Mr Morgan says another huge gain was an agreement that the Crown will now involve iwi in private/ public partnerships for major infrastructure projects.

Ngapuhi chairperson Sonny Tau, who also chaired the meeting, says that in the past Maori have not been invited to tender for such developments.

"Maori should be the first cab off the rank when you have new development. Your natural partner is Maori - and don't treat us like second-rate citizens."

Employment and the economic outlook for all New Zealanders will be on the Government's agenda at the jobs summit in Auckland in March.