Greens call for end to perpetual leases over Māori land

"Māori landowners continue to be locked out of their own whenua."
"Māori landowners continue to be locked out of their own whenua." Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Greens want an end to perpetual leases over Māori land, calling them an "outdated and unjust colonial weapon".

In the 1800s, the Crown began to acquire land reserved for Māori and said it would administer it on behalf of its Māori owners. It was then offered to settlers under perpetually renewing leases that brought in very little rent and gave the Māori owners no control.

The leases remain on some land to this day and Elizabeth Kerekere, the Green Party's Māori Development spokesperson, is calling on the Government to end them so Māori landowners can take control of what is theirs. 

"Māori landowners continue to be locked out of their own whenua by perpetual leases that allow others to control and profit from Māori reserve land," Dr Kerekere said. 

One example of the perpetual lease practice is in Tokomaru Bay, north of Gisborne, where the owners of Māori reserve land known as the Tuatini Township Blocks have no control over what businesses occupy it or for how long. 

"Our people are living in shacks. They don't have anywhere to go, and their land is locked," one of the owners told RNZ last year. "They can't even access it to put a tent on. How can we have land, and be homeless?"

Dr Kerekere said the perpetual leases have come "at the expense and serious disadvantage of those Māori landowners". 

"The Government took control of the land and leased it out for next to nothing, with the right to renew forever. They did this without the consent of the Māori landowners.

"This injustice continues today with leaseholders still paying well below market rate to lease land such as the Tuatini Township blocks in Tokomaru Bay. If Māori landowners want to regain control of their own land, they are forced to buy out the lease at full market rate."

She called them an "outdated and unjust colonial weapon" which the MP said has been abolished in the UK and is in no context acceptable. 

"The Government must put an end to perpetual leases. This would return control to the Māori landowners so they use their lands for the benefit of their whānau, hapū and iwi as they wish," she said. "This could include continuing leases but under their terms. 

"It is time to restore the tino rangatiratanga of Māori landowners and their right to control their own land by ending perpetual leases."