'Flash' rocket companies get Govt money so Māori landowners should too - Shane Jones

Shane Jones has strongly defended giving Māori landowners $100 million from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund. 

The Regional Economic Minister responded to criticism of the funding boost announced on Sunday, telling The AM Show it's unfair that Government funding is often unbalanced. 

"Why should the Callaghan institute and others fund the guy in Mahia Peninsula firing rockets into the sky, but you're complaining about Māori landowners?

"Why should we fund all of these flash Callaghan-orientated things in science funding?"

Callaghan Innovation is a Crown entity tasked with making Kiwi businesses more innovative. In 2014, it chipped in up to $15 million over three years for NZ-US company Rocket Lab, which has successfully launched rockets from Mahia Peninsula. 

The Accident Compensation Corporation of New Zealand, a Government agency, is also an investor in Rocket Lab. The company said last year it had secured US$140 million (NZ$206 million) to fund expansion and research projects.

Mr Jones implied that Māori people are too often left out when it comes to Government funding, and that too much time is spent "wandering the corridors of Parliament" trying to change Māori land laws. 

"We've set up a fund [and] we've got Rodger Finlay, one of New Zealand's leading commercial identities, advising the Government on what sort of propositions should pass," the New Zealand First MP said. 

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the $100 million funding package, she said research shows 80 percent of Māori freehold land is under-utilised and unproductive.

There are concerns, however, that the reason the land is under-utilised is because it's unsuitable for development in economic terms and that its significance is more cultural.  

Mr Jones responded: "We'd rather make the attempt, be very diligent, find partners that have a proven track record, and bring these Maori landowners and their aspirations into the real world."

Asked why taxpayers should take the risk on developing Māori land when Australian banks have said they won't, Mr Jones said it's because the banks "don't know how to overcome the obstacle of this colonial system of land administration". 

"The banks are keen to work with Māori landowners but they've all said to us that there's too much risk associated with the ownership structure."

National leader Simon Bridges said handing money to Māori won't achieve anything and that Māori land laws need to change first under the Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill.