A big policy “u” turn by Labour has left the party being accused of patronising Maori and its commitment to the Treaty settlement process is now being questioned.
Labour’s change of heart looks like it was driven by fear of offending mostly Pakeha voters who have opposed a 300-unit Maori housing development going ahead in Auckland.
And in response to questions from POLITIK the National candidate for the Maungakiekie electorate (where the development is located), Denise Lee, would last night not confirm her support for the Government’s proposal.
The accusations against Labour come four months after two of it MPs enthusiastically welcomed a Government move to return land to an Auckland iwi.
But the party now opposes the deal.
Labour says they have done so because of local opposition which would allow Ngati Paoa to build housing on what is currently the Point England Reserve on the Tamaki River.
Ngati Paoa has said Labour has got it wrong and is being hypocritical.
And it argues that this is the first time that Labour has opposed a treaty settlement.
The Maori Party says Labour’s move “is a betrayal of the support that Māori have given to Labour.”
Plainly sensitive to the charge that the party was trampling over a Treaty settlement by opposing the deal, its housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said Labour’s commitment to the Treaty settlement process was “unquestionable”.
“It’s a very honourable history, but it doesn’t mean that the National Party has got a blank cheque for any half-baked scheme like this one,” he said.
Ngati Paoa, however, says Labour’s stance pits it against Auckland iwi.
Ngati Paoa Trust CEO Hauauru Rawiri, said that without this land there would be no Treaty settlement between the Crown and Ngāti Paoa.
“ By opposing the legislation, Labour is opposing a Treaty Settlement Bill – for the first time in the history of the Treaty settlement process.
“The Labour Party position seems to be that Ngāti Paoa is being duped by the Government to advance its housing programme.
“This is a supremely patronising and condescending attitude that reflects poorly on its proponents.”
The Government is proposing to sell 13 hectares of the 48-hectare reserve to Ngati Paoa, and there is a Bill before Parliament which would lift its reserve status and allow housing to be built on the land.
Objectors say that the reserve is needed because of the rapidly growing population in the area and that it provides nesting sites for endangered dotterel birds.
Ngati Paoa are proposing to build 300 houses with a mix of social and affordable housing and open market sales.
The proposal is part of Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith’s attempts to find crown land in Auckland on which houses can be built as his answer to the city’s housing crisis.
But Ms Lee was equivocal in her reaction.
She said she was engaging with the Minister and Ngati Paoa to ensure there was a better outcome for the reserve in recreation and environmental terms.
“For too long Point England has been under-funded and under-used and we’ve got a chance to address it now while honouring historic and rightful grievance by iwi who once proudly lived here,” she said.
Initially, in 2013 it was proposed that Ngati Paoa, who are a small iwi with only about 3400 members who live mostly in South Auckland, would get land only for a marae.
The decision to make the bigger offer came last year obviously a part of the Government’s seemingly desperate moves to find land that houses could be built on in Auckland.
The reserve serves the largely state housing suburb of Glen Innes, and the proposal to return it to Ngati Paoa has drawn widespread opposition from many nearby residents.
A petition with 3400 names on it opposing the proposal was presented to NZ First Leader, Winston Peters on Waitangi Day.
A Select Committee considering the Bill to change the land’s status has drawn hundreds of submissions in opposition.
This was all a far cry from December 13 last year when the Bill was introduced.
With Ngati Paoa members sitting in the gallery, Labour’s Tamaki Makaurau MP, Peeni Henare said the bill offered an opportunity not just for Tāmaki-makau-rau but, in particular, for Ngāti Paoa, “and for that reason, I am extremely excited.”
“This particular opportunity at Te Tauoma is a fantastic one—one that will allow Ngāti Paoa, in partnership with the council and, of course, with central government, to provide for housing not just for their people but also for the people of Tāmaki-makau-rau,” he said.
“This particular bill provides an opportunity and a start and the platform for Ngāti Paoa, for which we are grateful, and I am sure the people of Ngāti Paoa are, too.”
Mr Henare was in Sydney last night and was unavailable for comment, but Mr Twyford dismissed his comments as a typical first reading speech.
He said first reading speeches were not based on research but almost always were in a situation where the MP had had to take the Government’s Bill at face value.
But Mr Henare was not Labour’s only speaker. Carmel Sepuloni said Labour would be supporting the bill “because we will support any piece of legislation that is going to be about building more affordable homes in Auckland.”
“ What we on this side of the House recognise is that there is a housing crisis and that first-home buyers are locked out of the market, and it does not make sense to use prime land for grazing cows when it could be used for affordable housing.”
That was a reference to the Auckland Council practice of grazing some of the reserve land.
The Maori Party have (predictably) lept to the defence of Ngati Paoa.
“We tautoko (support) the sentiments expressed by Ngāti Paoa representatives today that the view of Labour regarding their opposition to the bill on the grounds of being ‘duped’ are ‘supremely patronising’, and we couldn’t agree with them more that Labour’s ‘condescending attitude reflects poorly on its proponents,” said co-leader Marama Fox.
Labour has now joined the ranks of those parties who will deny us our treaty redress rights and the Māori Party stands in solidarity today with Ngāti Paoa to see that justice will be done for them,” said co-leader Te Ururroa Flavell.
“We agree with Ngāti Paoa that opposing the bill pits the Labour Party against mana whenua of Auckland.
“ Having been so generous in their contribution toward the development of the modern world class city that Auckland’s citizens enjoy today, is a slap in the face for mana whenua.
“ That Labour would sacrifice Māori yet again to win marginal votes in Auckland is just plain kino (bad).”