9 Sep 2015

Occupation ends with arrest of 'oafish' protesters

7:43 pm on 9 September 2015

The protest which shut down Kaitaia airport for a day is over.

Screenshot from a Google Streetview of Kaitaia Airport

Kaitaia Airport Photo: Google Streetview

Police moved this afternoon to evict a Ngati Kahu group which took over the airport yesterday, forcing the cancellation of flights.

Five of the group were arrested, and all protesters were served with trespass notices banning them from the airport.

Far North Mayor John Carter said there was no violence involved.

He said Mana leader Hone Harawira, who lived nearby, talked with the Ngati Kahu group earlier today and was instrumental in bringing the occupation to a peaceful end.

"Particularly when he learned that the medical plane was not coming up to Kaitaia, that caused him serious concern.

"Hone's been very helpful all the way through."

Mr Carter said the Ngati Kahu people had a legitimate grievance about the airport land and he hoped to discuss that with Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson.

The protesters had vowed to stay as long as it took for the Government to recognise what they said was their rightful ownership.

However, occupation leader Hone Popata earlier this afternoon said the police had warned them they would be at the airport in force to shift them, and the group was packing up.

He said some of the group - himself included - were prepared to be arrested but the others would go peacefully.

Hone Popata's brother, Wi Popata, vowed the protesters would return.

"We challenge this Government, we challenge this Crown, that we don't care how many police they put up there, we don't care if they get the army up there to stop us - all we know is that we will be back up there," he said.

"Watch this space."

Protest disrupts health specialists

Earlier today, a flight bringing medical specialists to Kaitaia was postponed because of the occupation.

Mr Carter said the demonstrators had agreed to allow planes carrying medical specialists to land. However, the flight which took specialist doctors from Whangarei to Kaitaia for clinics was called off this morning because of the protest.

"That's now seriously concerning us. There is to be another flight scheduled tomorrow and we want to make sure that's not stopped."

Mr Carter said the protesters had said they would not do anything to jeopardise airport safety but pilots would not take the risk of using an airport that was not under legitimate control.

People in the area waited days or weeks for specialist medical assistance.

A spokesperson for the police said officers were at the site monitoring the protesters.

The airport land is due to be given to another iwi, Ngai Takoto, as part of the Te Hiku Settlement Bill, which had its third and final reading in Parliament today. But protesters claim it was taken from a Ngati Kahu family during World War II and never returned.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said the protesters were "oafish" miscreants who did not understand the Treaty process; half of the airport would be available to Ngati Kahu if the iwi signed its deed of settlement in three years.

He said the protesters did not represent the iwi.

"I'm sick of their behaviour and sick of the way they treat the mana of their iwi by this sort of thing. It's totally inappropriate and it is oafish behaviour," he said.

"They may not like the term but it is oafish behaviour."

Crown position explained

A spokesman for Mr Finlayson later said both Ngati Kahu and Ngai Takoto had claims over the airport, and the Crown had offered them the right to buy it back with their Treaty settlements on a 50-50 basis.

That offer was in line with the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal.

Ngai Takoto had settled with the Crown and could now buy its share back in three years' time - on the condition the land remains an airport.

Ngati Kahu had not settled and, if it did not do so within three years, Ngai Takoto had the right to buy the entire property.

The spokesman said the Crown had had to balance the interests of both iwi while ensuring certainty about the future of the airport.

Far North Holdings' chief executive Andy Knock said the airport was the lifeblood of Kaitaia.

The Ngati Kahu people should take their Treaty grievance to the Government, rather than causing the local community to suffer, he said.

It was hoped the airport would reopen tomorrow.