The Prime Minister was never going to avoid Ihumātao by saying the Government "was falling on the side of the local iwi and their position". Not when thousands of protesters were making their way to Ihumātao. So, it was no surprise when she announced last Friday that the Government had arranged with Fletchers to halt any building work. That, of course, is just the start of the government role. There is now a strong expectation the Government will find a complete solution.
Ihumātao has become the cause celebre for many on the left of politics. For many young tangata whenua, Ihumātao is the place where they can stand against the government and the establishment, including traditional iwi structures. There is a sense of the dispossessed standing up for their rights. Hence the evocation of the days of Bastion Point.
The downstream implications, especially for the upcoming Ngapuhi settlement, could be measured in the billions of dollars. Iwi with existing settlements will ask for them to be reopened.
Ihumātao is not just another protest. It represents the left standing up to the neo-liberal establishment. The highly public involvement of the Green Party, led by Marama Davidson, in taking the side of the protesters is symbolic of their wariness in being trapped in the shibboleths of state power. The Greens are historically the party that opposes state power, it is not their role to be part of it.
It has obviously been an extremely uncomfortable situation for Jacinda Ardern and her Māori MPs. The images of the massive police cordon circling Bastion Pt some 40 years ago could always be laid at the feet of Sir Robert Muldoon. Jacinda and her colleagues would see Muldoon as someone who would naturally use the power of the state to deal to the protesters. Yet they found themselves in a similar position. Hundreds of police, the very symbol of state power, being arrayed against a new generation of youthful protesters. It hardly meets the self image of caring and compassionate leadership.
How long will Te Kawerau a Maki be able to stand up to SOUL's demands? It seems improbable that the iwi leadership will be able to stick with their existing position. That their indomitable position is that they have a deal with Fletcher Building, and they will stick with it.
Instead, they will be looking for a way out. They will not want the rift within the iwi to deepen, souring relations for years ahead. It seems likely that Te Kawerau a Maki will ask the Government to buy at least some of the land from Fletcher, while also providing the 40 houses that were part of the Fletcher deal.
At first blush the Prime Minister will find this appealing. She will be able to say she is on the side of the local iwi, while also salving the specific concerns of SOUL. All it will take is money, lots of it. It is a solution that certainly appealed to the Herald columnist, Brian Rudman .
Fletcher bought the land from the Wallace family in 2016 for a reputed $40 million, the land having been in private title since it was confiscated following the land wars of the 1860s. It had that value because it was a designated special housing area. Since then millions have been spent on plans and resource consents.
Fletcher will sell at the right price, in part because Fletcher will want a continuing good relationship with the Government, which it knows has hundreds of millions of dollars in building contracts over the next decade.
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The bulk of the land would need to go into the Stonefields park or similar, no doubt with Te Kawerau a Maki in co-governance. The solution to this dispute will need to stand apart from all other treaty settlements. If this one relatively small hapu gets many tens of millions of value, it would hugely disturb the relativities of all other treaty settlements.
This is where this apparently simple solution could fail. It will be a huge risk if the Government gives SOUL everything it asks for. It will run the huge risk of completely disrupting the treaty settlement process. The downstream implications, especially for the upcoming Ngāpuhi settlement, could be measured in the billions of dollars. Iwi with existing settlements will ask for them to be reopened.
Perhaps a tripartite solution is more likely. Some of the land will be purchased to expand the existing Stonefields reserve, thus satisfying SOUL's central demand. Some will be purchased for Te Kawerau a Maki for iwi housing, which retains their mana, and fulfils their agreement with Fletcher. And Fletcher will retain some for a housing development, reflecting the fact that the land has been in private title since 1869.
The distinguishing point from treaty settlements would be that the payment of the bulk of the money doesn't directly benefit Te Kawerau a Maki or SOUL, rather it is for a general public cultural and archaeological benefit.
Would the Prime Minister spend up to $100 million to settle at Ihumātao? I have no doubt she will. Much of her reputation is built upon being the healer, the leader who can bind wounds. Going down in history as a latter-day Muldoon would be absolute anathema to her. The Prime Minister will do just about anything it takes to avoid that fate.
* Dr Wayne Mapp is a former MP for North Shore and former Law Commissioner