Minister refuses to apologise after botched land deal


The Supreme Court has criticised two government ministers after a botched land deal.

Whārere farm in the Bay of Plenty was the focus of a lengthy court battle between Māori and the Government.

Today the Supreme Court ruled the Government was wrong.

The farm was originally owned by Landcorp -- a state owned enterprise.

In 2013 it decided to sell. Bay of Plenty iwi Ngāti Whakahemo wanted to buy it and it was part of their original Treaty claim.

Landcorp sought advice from the Office of Treaty Settlements, who said Ngāti Whakahemo's claims had been settled.

The Supreme Court says that advice was wrong.

Ngāti Whakahemo wrote to numerous Ministers seeking help.

The Supreme Court ruled the decision by Ministers not to intervene was "a wrongful exercise of a public power", and the decision by Landcorp to sell the farm was also "a wrongful exercise of a public power".

"It's a serious error to assume that I didn't work very hard over a period of months to achieve just that," says Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson.

But that's what the Supreme Court said -- they said that the ministers were wrong not to intervene on behalf of Ngāti Whakahemo.

Not only are there no legal consequences, but Mr Finlayson is refusing to apologise.

"Of course I won't apologise because that's a finding of law. It's not as though I've done something grievous that requires me to get down on my knees and apologise."

He says Ngāti Whakahemo didn't miss out on the opportunity to buy the land because the farm was too expensive.

"They couldn't have afforded to purchase it on their own, I know that."

"We're one of the longest farming families in this district, everyone knows that," says Mita Ririnui from Ngāti Whakahemo. "We had the means to purchase."

Despite the rulings of wrongdoing, the Supreme Court did not reverse the sale of the farm, saying that would be unfair on the party that purchased the land.

As for any cash compensation -- there is none.

It's not yet known whether Ngāti Whakahemo's court costs will be covered as the Supreme Court has reserved that decision.