11 Aug 2015

Minister defends treaty negotiation payments

8:36 pm on 11 August 2015

Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson is defending more than $1 million paid to former ministers to help settle treaty negotiations, saying they have done an excellent job.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson

Treaty Minister Chris Finlayson Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Of the 13 government-appointed Crown negotiators, five are former politicians and government ministers.

The yearly payments for the former ministers, since 2008, range from about $42,000 to more than $154,000.

The highest paid negotiator is Auckland-based consultant Michael Dreaver, who has been paid more than $2 million since 2009.

Winston Peters giving his 2015 Budget speech.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The information was released to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

But Mr Finlayson said he was proud of what his negotiators had achieved.

"This latest comment about expenses is inspired by Winston Peters, who frankly is New Zealand's answer to Donald Trump - he'll say anything to get a cheap, tawdry headline.

He praised the negotiators as "good people from a variety of backgrounds" who have worked steadily for him over a number of years.

"Tomorrow in the house we have three bills: one as a result of the work of Fran Wilde, former chair of the Wellington Regional Council, the second one, Ngāruahine, is a result of the good work of [former Labour minister] Rick Barker, and thirdly, Hineuru as a result of the good work of [former Labour minister] Paul Swain - I'm very pleased with the work they've done.

"Let's go back to where we were in 2006, when the Waitangi Tribunal slammed the government over the way it had negotiated exclusively with Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei - as a result of that, when I became the minister I asked [Sir] Doug Graham to take a good look at the entire Auckland area.

"He did a fantastic report which was presented to the iwi of Hauraki and Tāmaki in 2009, it's very overlapped, very complex and very good progress has been made."

Mr Finlayson said the results from treaty settlement negotiations spoke for themselves.

"I think they have the necessary skills to make a contribution as my negotiators... The proof of the pudding is in the settlements that have been signed, and I rest my case."

PM supports payments

The Prime Minister has also defended the payments, saying the government had completed a huge number of treaty settlements since 2008.

John Key said it had been helpful to have other people working on its behalf.

"I think it's money well-spent. If you look at the overall costs of settling treaty claims, it's in the billions, so paying a few people to be special negotiators for us makes sense."

He said one of the government's goals was to end the treaty settlement process by negotiating successfully with every iwi.

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