Te Ture Whenua - Māori Bill update

Māori land reform has been a slow burning conversation since Te Ture Whenua Act was introduced in 1993. Its purpose centred on the retention and utilisation of Māori land. The reformation seeks to repeal the Act in its entirety and is expected to pass upon its final reading in Parliament in April this year.

Te Ture Whenua

Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill (2016) will come into force in October 2018, giving affected agencies and Māori nearly 18 months to familiarise themselves with the complex legislation. During that time, the Māori Land Service will be formally established and a transition of services from the Māori Land Court (the Court) to the Māori Land Service will take place. The loss of knowledge, transfer of staff and funding for the new structure are among some of the key issues for the Public Service Association and Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Āwhina.

Taonga tuku Iho – a treasure of Māori heritage

Nicole Nepe, who works at the Māori Land Court, believes it’s essential in helping connect Māori with their whenua, an important role establishing clear lineage and preserving whanaungatanga. It is much more than administrative service or a judicial process; the Court brings to life lineage for Māori. The Māori Land Court is a treasure of Māori heritage that needs to be preserved.

Nicole’s four managers have worked at the Māori Land Court for 200 years, collectively. Their work based primarily on the relationships and kinship they have locally. This wealth of knowledge cannot be replicated with paper work and rests on the foundations of Māori oratory traditions.
“They are walking encyclopaedias,” Nicole says.

This is what makes the Māori Land Court a taonga for Māori and a critical part of New Zealand’s history. It is in part a living testament grounded on oral histories and carefully documented testimonies of tīpuna that rests upon the shoulders of the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and ensuring mana motuhake for Māori.

It is essential that this remains a core part of any reformation and that this reformation is by Māori for Māori. While the repeal of the Act seeks to reiterate the importance of Te Tiriti and the retention and utilisation of Māori land, it is difficult to see just how this can be achieved in the absence of retention of knowledge passed from generation to generation through the Māori Land Court.

Paula Davis, who has worked for the Māori Land Court for 11 years – half of the average length of service in the Court says, “There won’t be the same local knowledge base at the Māori Land Court that is expected by our customers.”

Working from hau kāinga

Māori Land Court services are provided locally by Māori for Māori. Employment opportunities, as well as accessibility to essential services of the Court, will be seriously diminished without clear determination of what the new Māori Land Service will look like and where its staff will be sourced from. Without this assurance, there are serious concerns by some members of their ability to find comparable work, particularly if they are not based in a main centre.

The preference of PSA members is to work in their hau kāinga, preserving knowledge to be handed down to future generations. One PSA member says, “the Māori Land Court has been the only front-line, on the ground, agency that has been working with Māori on a day-to-day basis – providing service in the same regional areas – to generations of the same families.”

Roles and Relationships

Once the law is passed, the Māori Land Service will have its mandate to establish. This could bring more clarity of what support there will be for Māori and what employment opportunities there will be for Court staff come October 2018.

In its submission, the PSA suggests land owners will still be liaising with a multitude of agencies “who may not have the empathy with local iwi and tikanga values which Māori Land Court staff have developed over many years of working alongside owners.”

At its heart, kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (face-to-face) sets the tone of the work the Māori Land Court undertakes. Without it, many PSA members are concerned that the level of customer service will decline. “Any new service created will/may reduce kanohi-ki-te-kanohi opportunities.”

Similarly, Nicole Nepe’s knowledgeable and experienced managers are able to provide vital information to our stakeholders from land complexities like paper roads, easements and landlocked lands to understanding the impact of section 40 of the Public Works Act 1981. This is no easy feat.

“The mechanisms and organisational structure for the service already exists, the expertise already exists, the systems and technology already exist, the case management expertise, the transactional expertise, the registry expertise, the land transaction expertise, the business expertise already exist in the current Māori Land Court structure.”

The PSA believes solutions for greater utilisation of Māori land should be designed by Māori for Māori, not by government. There are many ambiguities about the future of jobs, where the knowledge of lineage will come from and how exactly the services will be provided and by whom.

“What the Court will look like after the Bill is yet to be seen, but the most worrying part is how our landowners, whānau and clients will fare and whether their sentiments expressed at the Court wānanga are realised, providing accessible and simple avenues for them to undertake their work,” Nicole says.

The strength of the knowledge held by the Māori Land Court and its staff is unparalleled. While there are certain areas where improvements could be made, complete reformation of the Act was perhaps unnecessary. Amendments, rather than repeal, could have been made to improve the service provision while protecting the knowledge and taonga tuku iho that is the Māori Land Court.

By Ta’ase Vaoga