Last ditch appeal for political intervention at Ihumātao set to fail

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Land protectors at Ihumātao peninsular, one of the earliest sites of Māori occupation in New Zealand, will march on Parliament next week calling on the government to protect the peninsular against a Fletcher Building-led plan to develop a housing estate on its freehold land.

The land is designated a Special Housing Area (SHA) and borders the Ōtuataua Stonefields, a historic reserve containing volcanic stone gardens, one of the innovations early Polynesians made to ensure their tropical crops flourished in a temperate climate. Fletcher Building, in partnership with the Makaurau Marae Māori Trust Board and the Te Kawerau Iwi Settlement Trust, plan to develop 480 homes on the land.

But the marchers, including the land protectors’ group SOUL, are unlikely to find the support they are looking for with insiders confirming Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford is unlikely to use his powers to disestablish Ihumātao’s SHA status.

Disestablishing the site’s SHA status would force Fletcher Building to re-apply for consent using the ordinary channels and assessed against the ordinary standards.  

“The legal avenues for SOUL to challenge the development at Ihumātao have been exhausted. The development has planning consent and the Environment Court has ruled,” Twyford told māui street.

Instead he is urging “all the parties to keep talking in an effort to find common ground.”

But common ground looks increasingly unlikely with Te Warena Taua, the executive chair of Te Kawerau Iwi Settlement Trust, releasing a strong joint statement with Fletcher Building condemning SOUL and other land protectors at the peninsular.

This leaves law reform as one of their last options, though it is unlikely to come soon enough with SOUL’s Pania Newton telling RNZ in February she expects the group will be evicted from the land soon.    

Last November the government announced it will consolidate Housing New Zealand, its subsidiary HLC, and KiwiBuild into the Housing and Urban Development Authority (HUDA). The new agency’s powers will include the power to zone.

 “National’s Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act is a blunt instrument,” Twyford acknowledges. “It aims to speed up housing supply by short-cutting good planning decision making. While our Government shares the goal of increasing housing supply we also need to take care with sensitive Māori land, housing affordability, and good urban design. Those principles will be at the heart of the legislation to establish the new [HUDA]”.

The new agency will work closely with iwi and Māori organisations as well when developing Māori land. According to Twyford the government is currently partnering with ten iwi and Māori organisations to deliver up to 2300 Kiwibuild homes.

But this is unlikely to reassure the land protectors at Ihumātao and SOUL who, on arriving at Parliament next week, will deliver a 10,000-strong petition calling for government intervention now.

The marchers will be met at the steps of Parliament by Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki on behalf of Labour and Greens co-leader Marama Davidson. At this stage, and tellingly, no Ministers will meet the march.


in the house

The Māori Affairs Select Committee is initiating a formal inquiry into the treatment of and outcomes for Māori in the public health system. In November the Committee opened a briefing into Pharmac and access to cancer medications, posing dozens of questions to the drug-buying agency after lobbying from patients and their whānau. Answers were due with the Committee this month. The formal inquiry is – politically - an extension of this briefing, taking a wider look at inequities not only within cancer treatment but the public health system itself. The inquiry’s terms of reference will finalised in the coming weeks.

The Committee has also confirmed it will also take hearings on chairperson Rino Tirikatene’s Māori seats entrenchment bill to Auckland and Rotorua. Over 700 submissions were received.   

Māori Television also appeared before the Committee recently with National members forcing the station’s leadership team to defend depleting cash reserves. The reserves were dipped into to help finance the move from the Newmarket studio, where rents were escalating, to the former Pumpkin Patch building in East Tamaki.  The station’s funding remains flat (and is unlikely to get a boost this year) with small but accumulating cuts helping offset the increasingly untenable shortfall. For example, full-time FTEs have dropped from 180 in 2014, one of the golden years, to 159 in 2018. FTEs in the top three salary bands ($101-150k; $151-200k; $201k +) also dropped significantly in 2018.


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