Election 2023: Chris Hipkins says he won't reopen Treaty settlements following Greens' proposal to 'return stolen land' to Māori

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he has no intention of reopening Treaty settlements following the Green Party's plan to "return stolen land to tangata whenua".

Earlier on Monday, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said if they are part of the next Government, they would launch a probe into the extent of dispossession due to Treaty breaches and enable recommendations around private land.

"The Aotearoa we know today has been built off of Māori land, much of which was wrongly taken through breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi over the last 183 years," Davidson said.

"Colonial land theft has caused severe disconnection and locked whānau in poverty and this has fed ongoing inequities for Māori within the health, education and justice systems. Returning land to tangata whenua is the right thing to do to begin to address these inequities."

The party's Hoki Whenua Mai policy lays out what it says is a plan to ensure land wrongly taken from Māori is returned. It includes:

  • Establishing a Commission of Inquiry into dispossession and redress will provide evidence of the full extent of dispossession of land due to Treaty breaches
  • Repealing the claims deadline and removing the ban on historical claims to give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • Continuing the work of the Department of Conservation on future governance within a Te Tiriti o Waitangi framework
  • Enabling non-binding recommendations for private land that was wrongfully taken from Māori as that land comes onto the property market
  • Reforming the Public Works Act to prevent the future taking of Māori land
  • Ending perpetual leases to give full control back to Māori landowners
  • Costings for Commission of Inquiry and claimant support.

At his post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Hipkins was asked whether he'd prioritise this policy too if he was able to form a Government with the Green Party after the election.

"The Treaty settlement process is not finished yet and so there are obviously still discussions with those iwi who have not completed their Treaty settlements," he told reporters. 

"We don't intend to reopen Treaty settlements that have been closed where the settlement has been reached. They were full and final settlements."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

Hipkins was also asked about ending perpetual leases over Māori land - something the Greens have already proposed to do - but he reiterated the "full and final" Treaty settlement process and how he doesn't intend to add to that. 

"That would also be inequitable for those iwi who have already reached the conclusion of that process."

ACT Party leader David Seymour earlier criticised the Greens' plan as a recipe for "endless chaos and division" and said it would encourage people to occupy private land and try to force a renegotiation. He also claimed that the Greens are proposing to relitigate "the entire" Tribunal process.

"So much for full and final. This would mean repudiating all the existing settlements between iwi and the Crown, and renegotiating them all over again. Instead of full and final, there would be endless chaos, litigation, and division," Seymour said.

But Greens Māori development spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said when indigenous people have control over their land, it boosts biodiversity. He also believed the policy will address "the impacts of land loss and colonisation in Aotearoa" and support whānau and papatūānuku to thrive.

"Returning land to tangata whenua is the right thing to do to address the ongoing injustices that Māori experience. Aotearoa can be a place where active kaitiakitanga led by tangata whenua guides our relationship with te taiao, ensuring our tūpuna whenua, awa, and maunga are cared for."