National's Nicola Willis, ACT leader David Seymour hammer in criticism over 'unlawful' Ihumātao deal

National and ACT are hammering in criticism over the Government's Ihumātao deal which has been deemed "unlawful" by the Auditor-General

The disputed south Auckland land was purchased by the Government from Fletcher Building in December for $30 million. The Government said it was bought using the Land for Housing programme, which falls under the KiwiBuild umbrella. 

Newshub revealed in March that Treasury warned the Government not to use the Land for Housing programme to purchase the land at Ihumātao because of the risk it did not fit within the scope of KiwiBuild. 

An investigation by the Auditor-General has found that on February 9 a new spending category was set up to pay for the land under the Ministry for Housing and Urban Development, but the Government did not seek approval for this, making the payment "unlawful" until validated by Parliament. 

"The Auditor-General's report uncovers extremely dodgy behaviour from Labour Government ministers as they tried to justify this spending," says National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis. 

"This is a disgraceful abuse of the law. Ministers are not a law unto themselves with authority to write cheques whenever they wish. They need to get the approval of Parliament first."

The Auditor-General says Housing Minister Megan Woods will now be required to provide an explanation to Parliament and seek validation of the expenditure. 

ACT leader David Seymour says New Zealanders deserve better. 

He said Finance Minister Grant Robertson, who oversaw and announced the Ihumātao deal, "illegally spent taxpayer money to solve a political problem created" by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. 

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis.
National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ardern negotiated a temporary halt to construction at Ihumātao in July 2019 while a solution was sought to protesters occupying the land.  

"We know Jacinda Ardern will not do the right thing," Seymour said. "She has a skills shortage in her Cabinet and someone who illegally spends taxpayers' money is still her best option." 

The Housing Minister says the error can be fixed. 

"While it is not an ideal situation this was a technical error and there are standard processes for correcting it. The mistake happened because two recommendations that were needed to formally authorise the payment were accidentally left off the briefing paper," she said.

"The Auditor General is not intending to investigate further. It will be addressed in the normal course of their work. In the meantime we remain committed to build housing on the site but we are still working on the detail."

Ardern pushed back on the criticism by referring to the Government's intent for the Ihumātao land to be used for housing. 

"We've been confident on our side that we were using funding that was from Land for Housing, and that was exactly, ultimately, what all parties have determined we are working towards."

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Kīngitanga, the Crown and Auckland Council in December on how the parties would work together to decide the future of the land.

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Housing Minister said all parties had committed to there being housing on the site. The land could be used to include Papakainga housing, housing for mana whenua and some public housing. 

But the Government came under fire in March after it was revealed there is no concrete guarantee houses will be built at Ihumātao

The redacted section of a Ministry of Housing and Urban Development Cabinet paper discussed on December 14 showed the agreement left Ihumātao's new owners with the potential to determine there are "other uses which are deemed to be more suitable than housing" for the land. 

The Government was accused by ACT of trying to "hide" it in the redacted section, as well the fact Treaty of Waitangi implications were discussed, despite assurances from Robertson that it was "very clear" it would "not affect the Treaty settlement process".  

Robertson said there were a "range of views" discussed throughout the period of negotiations over Ihumātao about how the settlement could be reached, and the Government was "very confident" in the outcome.