Jacinda Ardern won't rule out Government purchasing Ihumātao after mana whenua breakthrough

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is refusing to rule out the Government purchasing Ihumātao as mana whenua urges it to enter into negotiations with Fletchers.

Since early August, the Kiingitanga has been acting as an intermediary between mana whenua with different views on what should be done with the disputed Māngere land, believed to be one of the country's earliest settlements.

While some support progressing the construction of houses, others have occupied the site, calling for the planned Fletchers housing development to be cancelled. 

But there was a breakthrough on Wednesday, with the Māori King announcing all mana whenua "want their land returned" and calling for the Government to negotiate with Fletchers "for the return of Ihumātao to its rightful owners".

While National Party leader Simon Bridges quickly called for the Government to reject entering into such negotiations, Ardern is refusing to rule it out.

Speaking from Japan, Ardern said she was "incredibly grateful" for the work Kiingitanga had facilitated but wouldn't say what action the Government would take. 

"There is still a bit more work to be done, but we will be mindful, as we go from here, of issues like Treaty precedent, the commercial interests, but also the heritage issues," she said.

"At this stage, our focus is on picking up the good work that has been done by Kiingitanga."

She wouldn't discuss whether Auckland Council should be a party to negotiations with Fletchers, calling that speculative.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub.

The land was confiscated from Māori in 1863 and sold to Fletchers in 2016.

Bridges said on Wednesday that Fletchers legally owned the land and if the Government began negotiations, it could set a precedent.

"If this settlement is brought into question then so will all other full and final Treaty of Waitangi settlements," he said. 

A spokesperson for Kiingi Tuuheitia said on Wednesday that the return of land was "outside of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process" and called for an "innovative and modern solution that does not financially disadvantage iwi". 

The Kiingitanga also acknowledged Ardern's previous intervention - where all construction on the site was paused.

Former Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson continues to says Tainui could step in and purchase the land.

"I can't understand why Tainui, who are worth about $1.5 billion, can't grasp the opportunity to talk to Fletchers themselves. That is what I suggested well over a month ago now," he told Newshub.

"Tainui have an option to purchase the property themselves. There had been talk of an interest-free loan by the Government. I thought that was fraught with difficulty as well."

A hikoi to the Prime Minister's office happened in August.
A hikoi to the Prime Minister's office happened in August. Photo credit: Newshub.

Demonstrations at the site intensified in July after police presented occupiers with an eviction notice. Thousands of demonstrators then flocked to the area from across New Zealand.

After the Prime Minister didn't visit the site, a large group of protesters marched from Ihumātao to her Mt Albert electorate office to present a 26,000-strong petition asking her to make the trip.

Ardern promised to visit the site eventually, but didn't want to intervene further while talks were underway with the Kiingitanga.