There has been a lot said about Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill recently. And so there should, given it's the biggest improvement to Maori land law for 25 years. What we are seeing now is the end result of a long conversation that started when the current Te Ture Whenua Maori Act was first reviewed in 1998.
The final bill is the result of six years of discussions, more than 580 submissions and over 170 hui and wananga. It is the result of input from the Maori Land Court judges, academics, Maori incorporations, community law centres and land trusts big and small. More than anything else, it's the result of the views of over 3000 whanau and land owners. Every individual contribution has made the bill stronger.
There are three underlying principles, or pou, of the new bill. Mana motuhake (self-determination) is about empowering Maori land owners to decide how they use their own land.
Whakawhanake (development) supports Maori land owners to reach their aspirations for the whenua. And taonga tuku iho (protecting whenua for future generations), helps ensure Maori land is retained in Maori hands.
There is an average of 100 owners for each block of Maori land, and many owners have interests in more than one block. There are more separate interests than there are Maori. So no bill will satisfy everyone entirely. Drawing on submissions from all parts of the country, we have made over 100 changes to the bill. Most are small, some are bigger. But they are all aimed at getting us closer to reaching our non-negotiable bottom-lines for land owners: mana motuhake, whakawhanake and taonga tuku iho.
Some are criticising the bill based on mistakes and misconceptions. For example, Kelvin Davis has wrongly said it will make it easier for a minority of owners to sell Maori land. The truth is the opposite.
To sell Maori land owners must give 75 per cent support, and first right of refusal to people with a tikanga connection with the land. Then the Maori Land Court must judge whether the proposed sale meets the purpose and requirements of the bill. Land owners can vote to make the threshold even higher. The bill gives owners more protections than now.
The bill improves the Public Works Act. This law was used to take our land throughout the 20th century. It allowed Maori land to be valued as worth less than general land. That tilted the playing field against Maori and made it more attractive for government and councils to target Maori land.
The goal is to strengthen Maori land ownership, to promote the protection of whenua against being lost, and let whanau make decisions about their own land.
Once implemented in full, the reforms will benefit Maori land owners for generations to come.