30 Jun 2015

Sonny Tau stands aside over kereru incident

7:16 pm on 30 June 2015

Ngāpuhi leader Sonny Tau has stepped aside as head of the board leading his iwi's treaty negotiations after admitting he was found with dead kereru.

A member of mandated authority Tūhoronuku has told Radio New Zealand that Mr Tau was asked to step down by the board last night, because the incident could distract from, and impede, negotiations with the Crown.

Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau

Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The development follows an investigation by the Department of Conservation (DOC) into allegations Mr Tau tried to smuggle the native wood pigeons from Invercargill to Northland.

Mr Tau, who is also the chair of the Ngāpuhi Runanga, has spear-headed the efforts to settle the tribe's treaty claim since 2010 when the iwi's successful sovereignty claim was heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.

He remains a member of Tūhoronuku.

Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson said stepping down as chair of the authority was the sensible thing for Mr Tau to do, but he did not believe the move was permanent.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson

Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Chris Finlayson Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The resignation, Mr Finlayson said, was unlikely to impact on treaty negotiations.

"There are plenty of people in Ngāpuhi who are anxious for a settlement, and they have a large number on the negotiating team. It's never about one person, it's always about more than one person."

Last week, Mr Tau admitted DOC was questioning him about the birds in his possession, and said it was a mistake he deeply regretted.

The Labour MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Kelvin Davis, had called for Mr Tau to resign and said he should now say sorry.

"Really, Sonny needs to go down and apologise to Ngāi Tahu for the raiding party in the first instance, but also to Ngāpuhi, many of us feel embarrassed by what's gone on."

Mr Davis said if Mr Tau was found guilty by the DOC investigation, Mr Tau should leave Tūhoronuku permanently.

DOC said the maximum penalty for being caught hunting the bird was a $100,000 fine and/or imprisonment of two years.