The Government has talked to other iwi about the possibility of the Crown buying back disputed land as a way to break the Ihumātao deadlock, Labour MP Peeni Henare says.

But the suggestion was rebuffed, with other tribes threatening to re-litigate their Treaty of Waitangi settlements if the buy-back plan went ahead, according to Henare.

The Tāmaki Makaurau MP and Whānau Ora Minister made his comments when he spoke to a group of first-year Victoria University political studies students yesterday.

Henare made some of the most front-foot comments by any member of the government since the Ihumātao standoff hit headlines.


On one level, Henare stuck to Labour's line.

"Mana whenua must come together and come back to the government with what they want. I don't want to pre-empt that discussion."

But in answering a question from the floor, he also revealed frustration at what he described as the "murky" way that the controversial Ihumātao deal had come about between tribal elders and corporate interests.

"More deals are done in the Koru Lounge than on the Marae," says Labour MP Peeni Henare (pictured at Waitangi celebrations earlier this year). Photo / John Stone

"This is a wakeup call to leadership in this country - both Maori and otherwise. Our people won't tolerate this anymore... Backroom deals have to stop," he said.

"More deals are done in the Koru Lounge than on the Marae."

Young Māori have found a voice through Ihumātao, Henare said. Kaumātua have to start listening to them.

And on the question of whether the government would consider buying back the land, Henare said, "We already had conversations with other tribes who said if you do that, we will re-litigate our Treaty settlements," Henare said.

Varsity tells academics to be 'sympathetic' to protesting students

Henare's comments came after an email was sent to academic staff at Victoria, saying some students had chosen to travel to humātao to protest. The email, by Vice Provost Stuart Brock and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Rawina Higgins said, "The University supports our students in this endeavour and we are asking all academic staff to be sympathetic to their absence.


"If necessary, please make reasonable accommodations for these students."

Henare's comments came just hours before a dramatic stand-off at Ihumātao last night as police reinforced their positions. The situation was ultimately resolved peacefully, but a picket this morning could ramp up the tension again.

The Waitangi Tribunal has no power over privately owned land, but local iwi did fight the site's designation as a Special Housing Area and opposed its sale to Fletcher Building in 2016.

When they lost that battle, elders and iwi leaders from Te Kawerau ā Maki decided the next best thing was to negotiate concessions for mana whenua. That included Fletcher returning 8ha and allocating 40 homes for local whānau via a shared equity scheme.

But a group called Soul (Save Our Unique Landscape) - mostly younger people, some of whom are also mana whenua - kept fighting.