Parliament's Māori Affairs Committee has released a report on the Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill with a majority recommendation that it be passed with amendments.
The bill would repeal and replace the current law relating to Māori land, Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993.
The report says the bill proposes a new approach that aims to increase the ability of Māori land owners to use their land by empowering them to make decisions by and for themselves, supported by an owner-focused Māori land service.
"At the same time, it aims to maintain, and even to strengthen, the protections that currently exist for the retention of Māori land for the benefit of future generations (a taonga taku iho) by virtue of whakapapa."
Among the changes are establishment of a new Māori Land Service, which would take over some of the functions currently carried out by the Māori Land Court. The bill would also establish a new Māori land dispute resolution service to help people and groups to resolve, between themselves, disagreements and conflicts in accordance with the tikanga, values and kawa (protocols) of the hapū associated with the relevant land. In the case of a whānau dispute, the kawa of the whānau would apply.
No codification of tikanga Māori
The committee says one of the bill's core principles is that tikanga Māori is central in deciding matters that involve Māori land.
"The committee agrees with advice that codifying tikanga would be an overly prescriptive interpretation of values and principles when applied to Māori land. We believe these are best left for whānau, hapū, and iwi to determine. Under the bill, for example, tikanga Māori would be called on in determining the preferred recipients of Māori land, relationships of descent, and the determination for a dispute resolution model."
Long lead-in period
The committee says it agrees that the bill is large and complex, making it difficult to understand. It notes that the new arrangements would need to be thoroughly explained to users before the legislation came into force.
"We think it is valuable that the bill envisages an unusually long lead-in period, with 18 months allowed for between Royal assent and commencement. In our view, this period will be critical to ensure that people are well informed about the new law and feel comfortable about using the new approaches and services."
Division of bill proposed
It is intended that the bill would be divided into three separate pieces of legislation before enactment, reflecting the three main areas of change:
- The overall legal framework for Māori land, contained in Parts 1-9 and Schedules 1-4 of the bill, would become Te Ture Whenua Māori Act.
- The institutional arrangements and machinery-of-justice provisions for the Māori Land Court and the Māori Appellate Court, currently in Parts 10-15 and Schedules 5-7, would become Te Kooti Whenua Māori Act.
- Consequential and other changes to existing legislation in Part 16 and Schedules 8-12, would become Te Ture Whenua Māori (Repeals and Amendments) Act.
Māori Land Court and Māori Appellate Court
The Māori Land Court and Māori Appellate Court would be continued. The committee says most submitters agreed that the court, along with the appellate court, should remain a key institution for determining matters relating to Māori land, although a few submitters opposed the court entirely "based on their negative experiences with it".
The report proposes a number of amendments to provisions relating to the courts, but no major amendments. An amendment to the provision relating to appointment of judges is recommended, making it explicit that a Judge would be appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Minister for Māori Development, after consultation with the Attorney-General.
The Labour, Green and New Zealand First Parties submitted a Minority View. This states that the bill falls short of its intended objective to improve Māori land utilisation by creating an "owner led" operating environment.
The three parties say they cannot support the bill and recommend that it does not proceed at this time.
The bill was referred to the select committee on 11 May 2016 after being introduced to Parliament on 14 April 2016. Submissions closed on 14 July 2016 and the committee received 152 submissions (including one from the New Zealand Law Society). It says there were 15 submissions in support of the bill, 39 opposed and 98 which neither supported or opposed the bill.
The committee heard oral evidence from 47 submitters at hearings in Gisborne, Tauranga, Canterbury, Auckland and Wellington.