Rotorua-based tribal federation Te Arawa has rejected assertions that it had been "captured" by agreeing to support leaving the wreck of the Rena on Astrolabe Reef.
A bus load of supporters from Te Arawa turned up in force today for the third week of an appeal before the Environment Court. Some of them performed a haka in court to demonstrate the tribe's mana whenua or authority over the land on its coastal strip centred on Maketu.
The appeal has been brought by Ngai Te Hapu of Motiti and Nga Potiki A Tamapahore of Papamoa. Nga Potiki has been joined in its appeal by Te Runanga O Ngati Whakaue ki Maketu and the Te Arawa Takutai Moana Kaumatua Forum.
Lawyer Jason Pou defended Te Arawa from criticism from within the tribe that it had been captured by the Astrolabe Community Trust which obtained consent to leave the Rena on the reef.
Mr Pou said Te Arawa initially sought full wreck removal because of the incursion upon its taonga.
"The significant distrust toward the Crown and the Rena owers at the time was evident."
He said the engagement of diver Joe Te Kowhai by Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Makino for Te Arawa was borne out of that mistrust.
"Early information provided by the salvors was that the wreck could not be safely moved and Mr Te Kowhai was engaged to assess that assertion."
Mr Pou said Mr Te Kowhai not only agreed with the salvors but went further to say that significant damage would be inflicted on the reef and surrounding environment if wreck removal was undertaken.
Te Arawa who accepted Mr Te Kowhai's evidence had confronted the reality that requiring the wreck to be removed as an exercise of kaitiakitanga would require destruction of that which kaitiakitanga was meant to protect, he said.
Mr Pou said the implication from witnesses who opposed leaving Rena on the reef was that supporters of consent were ignorant, uninformed and had been captured.
"What is telling is that the evidence of such experts falls well short of what is required in proceedings such as this. Neither of these experts considered or even sought the views of their esteemed leaders who decided to support the consent."
Mr Pou said one of the witnesses had failed to consider the reef destruction that might occur from removing parts of the Rena, while the other provided maps that sought to locate iwi of Te Arawa while omitting many represented by the Te Arawa Takitai Forum.
The evidence of these witnesses had inflamed tensions within Te Arawa, he said.
Mr Pou said if Te Arawa could wave a magic wand and have the ship removed without further damage to the taonga, it would. "They have, however, adopted a pragmatic approach, given the information they have received and the assessments they undertook themselves."
Declining consent to leave the Rena on the reef would have left the site unmanaged and unmonitored, he said.
Because of the way Te Arawa had engaged with the Astrolabe Community Trust, it had secured a "significant mitigation mechanism" by a $1.25 million fund to build a research institute to benefit its people, he said.
Rena restoration and mitigation funds
- $1.5m to benefit Motiti Island community
- $1.25m for Te Arawa research institute
- $250,000 for Tauranga Moana projects
- $160,000 scholarship fund