At last: the Crown issues a formal response to Wai 262

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Eight years after the Waitangi Tribunal released Ko Aotearoa Tēnei, the Wai 262 report, the government has announced its formal response.  

Another working group.

Last week the Crown’s “preliminary” response went live on Te Puni Kōkiri’s website with the Māori Development Minister committing to a “partnership framework” to progress the Tribunal’s recommendations in its landmark intellectual property report.

Those Tribunal recommendations range from establishing a commission with the power to regulate the use of Māori art to establishing a Māori committee to advise the Commissioner of Patents.

“Every country has a way of ensuring that there is a legislative framework to protect intellectual property,” said Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

“[But] in a New Zealand context we don't really have a way to protect the Māori interests within that [framework]”.

In an effort to build such a framework Mahuta is planning to convene three different ministerial groups to examine what legislation might have to change to better protect taonga (e.g. art) and taonga-derived works.

The Tribunal defines taonga as works with whakapapa, mauri (life force), and kaitiaki (guardians). Think of Ka Mate. Taonga-derived works possess a Māori element but are generalised, adapted or combined with a non-Māori element. Think of the Air New Zealand Koru.

There are very few protections for either form with artist Dick Frizzel appropriating the words to Ka Mate as recently as last week.

In a statement Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira told media this is why the government’s work on Wai 262 is so important.

However, not all political players are happy with Māori Party president Che Wilson urging “action” on all of the Tribunal’s recent recommendations instead of “rhetoric”.

“While we acknowledge the leadership taken by Nanaia to get a formal response agreed to Wai 262 we hear only radio silence from the Government on the Tribunal’s recommendations regarding freshwater and health.”  

“Both of those reports were issued recently and so far nothing. Not a single statement from Peeni, Willie, or any of the other Māori MPs in government,” said Wilson.  

“The number of Māori MPs in this parliamentary term suggests there should be sufficient numbers to action the Tribunal’s recommendations. A swift and courageous response from government is required now that they have the numbers we never had.”

During the Māori Party’s time in government their co-leaders and ministers were unable to secure a formal response to Wai 262.

However, work was in the pipelines under former Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell, but the impediment to progress was political rather than policy-based with no appetite within the National-led Cabinet or outside of it for reforming intellectual property laws.

But under this government there is at least a ministerial commitment to reform and a formal paper will go to Cabinet later this year confirming the shape of the government’s new approach (the paper will go to Māori-wide consultation before going to Cabinet).

Significantly, Mahuta and her advisers will also examine how the Crown might reorganise its internal structures to better protect taonga, taking a “whole of government” approach to intellectual property and flora and fauna.

In the Wai 262 report the Tribunal identifies over 20 government departments and agencies that regulate, could regulate, or otherwise influence or come into contact with intellectual property and flora and fauna issues.

Mahuta’s move is a significant and welcome one that could help cement Māori perspectives in every corner and at every level of government, and confirm her as perhaps the most important Māori minister in the current government.