Labour pours cold water on Green Party's idea of returning private land to Māori

Labour has poured cold water on the Greens' idea of returning private land to iwi, with the Minister for Māori-Crown Relations saying it's "time to move on". 

The Green Party released a discussion document on Waitangi Day which proposed enabling the Waitangi Tribunal to revise Treaty settlements, including recognition of increased land values since redress was provided. 

The Greens also suggested allowing the Waitangi Tribunal to make recommendations in relation to privately-owned land, and to create a fund to enable whānau or hapū to reacquire dispossessed Māori land. 

"Returning land to tangata whenua is the right thing to do to address the ongoing injustice that Māori experience," said Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson. 

"Nearly two centuries of land dispossession - much of which has been enabled by Crown policy - has caused an underlying, deep, foundational harm that Māori continue to experience to this day. 

"We see it in everything from the number of Māori constrained by poverty, to the harm that has been done to our natural world... Only by returning land to its rightful owners can our people and taiao be healed into the future."

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is not on board. 

"That's not something we're currently giving consideration to," she told reporters on Tuesday.

Neither is Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis. 

"The impression I got from the whole of the Greens' policy is it's a bit like painting the Harbour Bridge: after a generation, we're almost at the end of the settlements, and now they want to start them all over again, like painting the Harbour Bridge - you finish and then you start again," he told reporters. 

"I think it's time for us to move on as a people. That's my initial reaction to what the Greens are saying."

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.
Greens co-leader Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub

Davis pushed back on the idea of revisiting settlements. 

"They settled, you know? These are complex negotiations over a number of years and ultimately the Crown and the tribes came to some agreement, and what has been proposed now is that we undo all those agreements and start again. 

"I think there comes a point where we just have to move on and get on with things."

National leader Christopher Luxon did not support the policy either. 

"I don't support it," he told reporters. 

"I think we're actually going back and unwinding a whole bunch of history and Treaty settlements. 

"Our focus needs to be on moving forward and completing the settlements that are out there at the moment that we need to close. 

"Treaty settlements have been painful and when you sit down and talk to iwi leaders, that has been a massive process. The weight of burden as they go through negotiations, it's really really tough, and it's been painful for everybody involved. 

"But we have got ourselves to a place where we're not going to go back and revisit and open all of that up again. We need to move forward, we need to close the remaining Treaty settlements, so that we can go forward from 2040 as a united country."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub

The Waitangi Tribunal was set up in 1975 for Māori to seek compensation for breaches by the Crown of the guarantees set out in the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by Māori and the Crown in 1840. 

Māori land was confiscated by the Crown during the New Zealand Wars from 1845 to 1872. Land was also in some cases obtained fraudulently, paid for insufficiently, or handed over with confusion about who actually owned land to sell

As of August 2018, 73 settlements had been passed into law. The total value of those finalised settlements was $2.24 billion. 

Some Māori have expressed concern that the level of redress provided has been too low, and that the settlement process was subject to too much Crown control.

In her speech on Waitangi Day, Ardern acknowledged that "the mahi is not done" to improve outcomes for Māori.

"Māori die at twice the rate as non-Māori from cardiovascular disease. Māori tamariki have a mortality rate one-and-a-half times the rate found in non-Māori children. Māori are more likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer. And Māori die on average 7 years earlier than non-Māori," Ardern said. 

"That is the problem that we have to address. And if we are to make progress as a nation, we have to be willing to question practices that have resulted over and over in the same or even worse outcomes.

"Whether it's poverty, education, housing or health, solutions are required. Not labels, and not responses that say different policies for different communities is segregation."