Maori Affairs Minister Te Ururoa Flavell is forging ahead with controversial reforms to Maori land law despite calls for further consultation on it.
The bill was due to be introduced last month, but a Waitangi Tribunal report released in March found the Crown would be in breach of Treaty principles if the law was changed against Maori wishes and further consultation was needed to ensure well-informed support from Maori.
Mr Flavell introduced the Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill to Parliament today, saying he believed that since the Waitangi Tribunal's hearings many of its concerns had been addressed through further changes to the legislation and rounds of hui.
Mr Flavell said many areas with significant Maori land, such as the Far North and East Coast, were crying out for more jobs and a reason for Maori to return to their lands and the bill would help that happen.
Labour's Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri said Mr Flavell would have to show he had met the Waitangi Tribunal's criteria including proving he had broad support and providing evidence on what the barriers were for the utilisation of Maori land.
"If the Minister tries to back out of adopting the Tribunal's recommendations, he will have to face the consequences from Maori landowners and leadership groups who are growing increasingly weary and sceptical of this entire reform process."
Mr Flavell said no other bill in living memory had such a lengthy consultation process. Since the Waitangi Tribunal report he had consulted with landowners, the Federation of Maori Authorities, Maori trusts, iwi leaders, and other groups on the changes and believed there was broad-based support for it. He said there had been calls since 1998, soon after the Te Ture Whenua Act was put in place, for Maori to have more autonomy over their own land and for it to be better protected.
Mr Flavell had already taken the rare step of releasing two drafts of the bill for consultation and said between 200 and 300 changes had been made on the basis of that. The select committee process would provide a chance for further submissions.
The bill has had a protracted process since it was announced following a 2012 review of the existing Te Ture Whenua Act 1993. It is aimed at ensuring more of the 1.4 million hectares of Maori land can be used productively by the landowners. It gives those landowners powers to make decisions on the land use themselves rather than having to go through the Maori Land Court.
A review of Maori land estimated about one third was currently unused and improving that could increase the contribution of Maori land from $2.7 billion a year to $4.6 billion.
In January Mr Flavell took the rare step of releasing a draft version of the bill for feedback after making several changes to the original proposal. That included removing a controversial provision which would allow the Maori Land Service to appoint a "kaiwhakarite" to manage Maori land which was not being used by landowners. It also sought to put in place stronger safeguards to ensure Maori land remained freehold. He also set a further round of hui for consultation.
Mr Flavell said work was under way on other issues affecting Maori land, such as landlocked land, paper roads and compulsory acquisition under the Public Works Act.