Election 2023: Green Party 'desperate vandals' for its plan to 'return stolen land' to Māori - David Seymour

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Green Party's plan to "return stolen land to tangata whenua" shows they are "desperate vandals" and there'll be "endless chaos", the ACT Party says.

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.

But the ACT Party believes the Greens' plan is a recipe for "endless chaos and division" and will encourage people to occupy private land and try to force a renegotiation.

"Under the Greens, we will have Ihumātaos all over the country," ACT leader David Seymour said.

"The policy would effectively place a lien on private property titles and crash their value. If the Tribunal can place liens over private property, property owners will be forced to go to court to defend their title. The resulting legal chaos will be off the charts."

One of the Green Party's ideas is to remove the 2008 deadline to lodge historical Treaty claims, meaning claims relating to matters that happened before September 21, 1992. The Waitangi Tribunal is still considering historical claims.

The tribunal is unable to recommend the return of most privately-held land to Māori. There are some exceptions, such as with regard to memorialised land that may be land previously owned by a state-owned enterprise. 

The Greens want to allow recommendations for land taken from Māori when that land comes onto the private market.

"This would be done together with removing the bar on new historical claims. The combined effect of this would enable claims for specific landholdings, with recommendations based around the return of this land. Tribunal recommendations would not be binding. However, these would provide clear direction to inform redress actions," Davidson said.

"How to give effect to recommendations about privately owned land would depend on the characteristics and uses of the land, and the future uses envisaged by the claimants. Next steps following a recommendation could include negotiating with current landowners for purchase, or keeping a record of land for future purchase when it comes up for sale."

Marama Davidson.
Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Getty Images

But Seymour wasn't convinced of the Greens' plan.

"The Greens are desperate vandals. This is a recipe for endless chaos, litigation, and division," he said.

"The Greens say they want 'a commission of inquiry into land dispossession to investigate land taken through breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi'.

"That already exists. It's called the Waitangi Tribunal. Historical injustices have been dealt with through full and final settlements negotiated in good faith by iwi and the Crown, and only a small number remain outstanding."

Seymour claimed that what the Greens are proposing is to "relitigate the entire process all over again". 

"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," he said.

The Greens have previously announced a proposal to end perpetual leases over Māori land. This is land reserved for Māori that the Crown began acquiring in the 1800s.

The Crown said it would administer it for Māori owners and then offered it to settlers under perpetually renewing leases that brought in little rent and gave Māori no control. 

The party wants to amend the relevant legislation to abolish the perpetual leases and "restore full rights to the underlying Māori landowners". 

These amendments would introduce an end date of 2025 for all remaining leases, the party said, meaning there'd be a year for the transition, including negotiations between the parties to address specific circumstances for each lease. The transition would also include considering what compensation may be payable by the Crown to the Māori landowners for the loss of the use of the land while it was under lease, and to leaseholders for the statutory removal of their future lease interests.

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."