Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill is currently going through Parliament - which means we could soon see the most significant change to Maori land law in 20 years.

Maori land has a complex history of the Crown using legislation to take land. That history involves wars, marches and confiscations.

Today Maori freehold land includes more than 1.4 million ha or about 5 per cent of New Zealand's land mass.

There are 27,137 Maori freehold land titles and about 2.7 million ownership interests in those titles.


Te Ture Whenua Act 1993 is complex, and the current reform is the result of six years of consultation and an ongoing conversation since 1998.

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell has said every contribution to this bill had made it stronger.

"In the time I've been in Parliament there is no bill that has been this consulted on," he said.

The reforms aim to address three key principles - greater autonomy, greater ability to use the land and protection of its ownership.

The creation of a Maori Land Service is intended to facilitate those principles.

Landowners will be given the opportunity to make autonomous decisions around the use of their land through participation thresholds.

Currently the decision making power remains with the Maori Land Court.

Selling, disposing or changing the status of land will need the support of landowners who own at least 75 per cent of the land.

These thresholds create an objective decision making process, and are able to be increased up to 100 per cent.

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri, who has shown continued opposition to the bill, said there were concerns changes could lead to further alienation.

However, Mr Flavell said the thresholds were no different than they've been in the current law.

"The decision to lift the threshold is in the hands of the landowners, so therefore the chances of loss of land are pretty much zip," he said.

"The argument that things have changed so much to allow the alienation of land and push out the small owners, they can't, the threshold is the same."

Owners who are not able to engage in person are now able to engage through Skype or other online media.

The Maori Land Service will support owners through decision making services, dispute resolution and hold the register for decisions, ownership and governance information.

The Budget included $31 million towards the creation of a Maori Land Service and Mr Flavell said he wanted to make sure it was up and running within 18 months of enactment.

While the Maori Land Court will remain accessible it will no longer deal with applications where the landowners have made decisions for themselves.

Jurisdiction of the Maori Land Court will be extended to legal matters under other acts when Maori land is involved.

The greatest opposition to the bill is that the bill does not address actual barriers to land development and that there is no detail on the Maori Land Service.

Ms Whaitiri expressed concerns ratings, council paper roads and landlocked land had not been addressed.

"The entire reform process has been undertaken without the necessary homework done on the real barriers to utilising Maori land," she said.

Mr Flavell said there were changes to the ratings with the creation of a rating evaluation tribunal with a Maori Land Court judge at the head of it.

"The change in the rules is to address an inequity, because under the current regime Maori land is valued at a different rate to general land, so we are fixing that," he said.

"In terms of paper road and landlocked land, we couldn't do that in the time that we had. But we do have that in a separate work stream, it is on the agenda and that will be solved."