John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Mayor blasts secret land-deal meeting

Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Getty Images
Auckland Mayor Len Brown. Photo / Getty Images

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has spoken of his fury at being kept in the dark over a deal to give highly-prized coastal land to Maori.

Brown says the government briefings on the deal to give $13.8 million of land in Devonport to Ngati Whatua did not "cut the mustard".

His comments came after it emerged at least two councillors were told of the deal a year ago - but a secrecy arrangement bound them to keep the mayor in the dark.

Brown's anger came after a copy of the secret briefing to the Hauraki Gulf Forum was used to berate treaty settlement minister Chris Finlayson and National Party MPs at a public meeting yesterday.

He said he had told Finlayson he was concerned at the lack of consultation.

"A confidential briefing for the Hauraki Gulf Forum - an autonomous body - does not cut the mustard."

The document setting out the April 2011 briefing was accepted at the forum - which has seven Auckland Council delegates - by councillors Mike Lee and Wayne Walker.

It stated: "While we believe it is important to ensure the forum is consulted on this matter, it is imperative that this matter is treated as confidential and not discussed outside the forum's meeting."

Lee said he was opposed to public land being used for settlements but that his feelings on the subject were not strong enough to break the confidentiality obligation.

Forum members come from three government ministries, six councils and local iwi. Christine Fletcher, Sandra Coney, Mike Lee, Denise Roche, Paul Downey, Des Morrison and Wayne Walker were Auckland Council's members. Roche and Coney had left by the time the secret briefing occurred.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Devonport Navy Gym to discuss the settlement yesterday. Finlayson faced a barrage from the crowd as he tried to explain that the deal to give Ngati Whatua the 3.2ha of land had been done transparently.

It was Takapuna-Devonport Local Board chairman Chris Darby who revealed the secret briefing.

"You ignored Auckland. You say that you have consulted Auckland Council, you have not."

Political scientist Bryce Edwards said a string of scandals were denting the Government's reputation, even in right-leaning neighbourhoods.

"The two big ones are the foreign purchase of land and the ACC saga. Both of these are particularly erosive for the Government."

Edwards said it was unusual for Finlayson, one of the Government's most respected ministers, to face such a vigorous public grilling, especially in a National electorate.

"At the moment, the Government doesn't seem to have the authority it had during its first term."

- Herald on Sunday

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