There has been a lot said about the imminent passing of Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill recently. And so there should, given it's the biggest improvement to Maori land law for 20 years.

What we are seeing now is the end result of a long conversation that started when the current Te Ture Whenua Maori Act was first reviewed in 1998.

There are three underlying principles, or pou, of the new bill: mana motuhake, whakawhanake and taonga tuku iho.

Mana motuhake (self-determination) is about giving Maori landowners greater legal scope to decide how they use their own land.


Whakawhanake (development) supports Maori landowners to reach their aspirations for the whenua. And taonga tuku iho (protecting whenua for future generations), helps ensure Maori land is retained in Maori hands.

There are many different voices in this conversation.

There is an average of 100 owners for each land block of Maori land, and many owners have interests in more than one block.

There are more separate interests than there are Maori! So no bill will satisfy everyone entirely.

No one person holds all the knowledge. No one person can speak for all Maori landowners and their experiences.

Drawing on submissions from all parts of the country, we have made more than 100 changes to the bill since it was introduced to Parliament. Most are small, some are bigger.

But they are all aimed at getting us closer to reaching our non-negotiable bottom-lines for landowners: mana motuhake, whakawhanake and taonga tuku iho.

By listening, I have also learned some people are criticising the bill based on mistakes and misconceptions. Its important people know the truth.


For example, some people wrongly think the bill will make it easier for a minority of owners to sell off Maori land. The truth is the opposite.

The bill sets out that to sell Maori landowners must give 75 per cent support and must give first right of refusal to people with a tikanga connection with the land.

Then the Maori Land Court must judge whether the proposed sale meets the purpose and requirements of the bill.

Landowners can vote to make the threshold even higher. The bill gives owners more protections than now.

The other thing I have heard the whole way through is that there are barriers in other laws that discriminate against Maori landowners and stop them using their land. I acknowledge this, and we are on our way to fixing it.

The bill improves the Public Works Act. This law was used to take our land throughout the 20th century. It valued Maori land as worth less than general land, because it was collectively owned. That tilted the playing field against Maori and made it more attractive for government and councils to target us over other owners.

Our whenua will no longer be treated as less valuable. We are also adding more protections against our land being taken for public works.

We are also changing rating. For example, in the past urupa of more than two hectares were charged rates, but cemeteries were not.

We are doing away with that discrimination so our ancestors' burial sites are treated the same as others'. Papakainga on marae will get rating breaks. Perhaps more importantly, councils will be encouraged to write off the $65 million in uncollectable rates on Maori land that's not being used, removing a barrier to owners from actively using their land.

We know that many owners want to improve the way their land works for them. We have set up a Whenua Maori Fund to help them explore options for boosting productivity for them and their whanau. We've given 40 grants since last year - more than $4.4m to trusts and whanau to look at ideas for the future.

The goal is to strengthen Maori land ownership, to ensure no more whenua is lost unnecessarily, and let whanau make decisions about their own land. I want to thank everyone who has shaped this bill.

Once implemented in full, the reforms will benefit Maori landowners for generations to come.