Paul Majurey: Maori economic clout blossoming

Treaty settlements are giving iwi back the power to be key players in Auckland's ongoing development.
For centuries, Maori flourished in Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
For centuries, Maori flourished in Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

It is only several decades since there was a common perception that the contribution of Maori to Auckland's economy was as factory workers, labourers, truck drivers and cleaners.

When Maori businesses made the newspaper, the story usually contained loaded language such as "transparency" and "accountability". Maori business success was seen to be the exception. This was not always so.

For centuries, Maori flourished in Auckland. This is where the first proto-cities in the nation were established and their physical signs are still visible on the volcanic cones.

In the 1850s, Maori still owned the great majority of land. Maori fed Auckland and Sydney. Maori owned schooners and flour mills. These were powerful commercial statements showing Maori had the skills and energy to flourish in the industrial age.

As history sadly records, all that changed with the wars of the 1860s and subsequent forced land confiscations and predatory land acquisition.

The time of harmony and prosperity between the races was extinguished before it had barely begun.

Fast-forward to the present. Auckland Maori own more than $23 billion of assets and contribute more than $4 billion to Auckland's GDP. In another decade, Maori will be one of the cornerstones of the New Zealand economy. So, what happened?

Since the 1990s, through Treaty settlements, iwi have collectively received over a billion dollars of assets. This represents only a few cents in the dollar for the massive losses suffered through the taking of their land and natural resources, but the combined assets of iwi throughout New Zealand are now valued at more than $40 billion. Those at the front of the queue for settling their claims have the largest asset bases but as other settlements occur - and in Auckland we are on the cusp of finalising the outstanding claims - the value of the combined iwi asset portfolio will grow significantly.

That means for people and businesses wanting to invest in Auckland and in New Zealand, iwi are key partners. So, how do we tick?

Fundamentally, relationships are crucial. We like to welcome guests, talk to them, and where there is common ground and a positive relationship, we will do business. Building trust is crucial to working with Maori. It makes the foundations very solid. There is a phrase - kanohi ki te kanohi - which means face to face. That is how we like to operate.

When we do talk business, our motivation reflects our world view. We take a long-term view rather than being driven purely by profit maximisation. Each iwi needs to make a sustainable economic return over the long run, the future generations of our people require that careful management.

But, where private enterprise answers to its shareholders and bankers, we also answer to our iwi. They expect us to balance economic returns with other drivers - cultural, social and environmental.

For example, the iwi that I belong to have, as part of our investment portfolio, the largest combined dairy and aquaculture farms among Maori, with a combined land and coastal area of nearly 3000ha. We own dairy farms, mussel farms, produce honey and own coastal space dedicated for finfish farming. While commodity cycles are part of the commercial reality, these are very good long-term investments. Importantly, we are also turning them into models of environmental sustainability. We carry an intergenerational responsibility to care for the natural world.

This is not to suggest Maori are not commercial. For people wanting to do business in New Zealand over the long term, and who want a durable investment, iwi partners are a very good fit.

There are a number of sectors in which we are particularly focused. Maori are becoming owners of substantial blocks of land. In the Auckland region, for example, iwi own commercial pine forests such as Woodhill, Riverhead and Mangawhai. These alone comprise some 19,000ha. The Mangawhai forests are illustrative of our commitment to environmental stewardship. These are coastal pine forests, overlooking the beautiful Te Arai beach. There, the iwi owners have gifted around a third of their land - 400ha - to create a public reserve.

Right now, Auckland iwi have the rights to buy around $750 million of commercial and residential property comprising around 200ha.

Our interest in land means Maori have a significant portfolio in agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Maori own around a third of New Zealand's commercial fishing quota.

While we will never lose interest in the primary sector, our tribal businesses are increasingly looking to diversify portfolios into, for example, telecommunications, carbon forestry, digital technology and power generation.

Our businesses include partnerships with Government, private companies and overseas investors. Maori have come to own diverse types of businesses, such as private hospitals, retirement villages, wine and food companies, product distribution channels and major tourism business and infrastructure.

With the emerging economic clout of Maori, many more discussions will become open to us. The Treaty settlement redress pales in size to the assets we lost in the 19th century, but we welcome the opportunity to be part of the solutions which Auckland and New Zealand need to the challenges we face.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Paul Majurey is a senior law partner and is of Ngati Maru/Marutuahu descent. He chairs iwi collectives in Auckland and Hauraki. This article is abridged from a speech he gave at the Tripartite Economic Summit in Auckland on Monday.

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