27 Feb 2018

Petition to exempt Māori land from Public Works Act rejected

10:42 am on 27 February 2018

A petition calling for the government to exempt Māori land from a law that compels private owners to sell their land for transport services has been declined.

Patricia Grace

Patricia Grace, who signed the petition, said she was disappointed at the government's response. Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Petitioners argued in 2016 the Public Works Act was unfair because Māori land had already been alienated throughout history.

The Māori Affairs Committee yesterday responded, and said it would not change the law or hold an inquiry.

In 2014 renowned author Patricia Grace won a legal battle against the government after it threatened to take her land in Waikanae for a Kapiti expressway.

Other neighbouring Māori land owners were not so lucky, and were forced to sell their land under the Public Works Act.

Patricia Grace, who signed the petition, said she was disappointed in the government's response because the Public Works Act contradicts the principles of the Waitangi Tribunal.

"I think iwi and the Crown are trying very hard and trying to make up for wrongs of the past through the process of the Waitangi Tribunal, and yet land is still being taken by the Public Works Act."

Under the Public Works Act if an agreement between the Crown and the landowner cannot be reached, the Crown has the power to compulsorily acquire the land and compensate the owner.

But former Green Party MP, Catherine Delahunty, who started the petition said in some cases under the law, Māori land was taken without payment or adequate consultation with multiple owners of a single block.

An inquiry would have addressed the historic injustices suffered by Māori under the act, she said.

"I know that there are so many stories out there of painful and unfair use of the Public Works Act in the past.

"It needs to be looked into and it would have been fantastic if the Māori Affairs Select Committee had been willing to take that up."

She said the response from the Māori Affairs Committee was disheartening, but was still hopeful the law would change.

"I don't think this is a defeat, I think this is just another delay in what is inevitably a march towards justice.

"The Public Works Act is unfair and it should not be used against Māori land. It needs to be seriously looked at."

Green Party MP and member of the Māori Affairs Committee Marama Davidson agreed and promised to continue to fight to change the law.

Colonisation had already reduced Māori land to just 5 percent of land in New Zealand and the Public Works Act was continuing to alienate the small proportion of Māori land left, she said.

"We do not need any further whenua Māori to be confiscated under any legislation at all, ever ... that's how a lot of our land was lost in the first place.

"I too am disappointed because the departments have tried to say the law is ok as it is, that there are enough safe guards in the current legislation status to prevent more Māori land from being unfairly and unnecessarily confiscated, but far too much Māori land has been confiscated through the Public Works Act."

Ms Davidson said she would continue to be an advocate for Māori land to be exempt for the law, and promised to push the change with new Minister for Crown Māori Relations Kelvin Davis and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs