There may well be method to what the Government are describing as Winston Peters’ madness which has led to Parliament abandoning a  debate scheduled for today on five Maori Treaty claims settlement bills.

The delay has led to iwi from the far north to Taranaki cancelling plans to travel to the capital for the passage of the Bills and the Government now offering to compensate them for their lost travel money.

But constitutional experts are asking whether Peters hasn’t got a point.

At issue is the wording in one Bill, Taranaki Iwi Claims Settlement Bill, which would require the Taranaki Regional Council to appoint six iwi members, three on the Policy and Planning Committee, and three on the Regulatory Functions Committee.

The Bill says the Council “must” appoint the members nominated.

It is the use of the word “must” that Peters is objecting to.

The clause appears to take Maori participation requirements in the Local Government Act to a new level.

That Act says only that local authorities should provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to its decision-making processes and therefore “must establish and maintain processes” to provide opportunities for Maori to contribute to the decision-making processes of the local authority.

There is no compulsion to appoint iwi representatives to any Council committee.  

Peters claims it is “electoral apartheid.”

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“They will not be elected, but nominated by iwi, need not be subject to an iwi vote, and they will be paid for by the ratepayers,” he says.

 “All this is in Clause 31 of the Bill.

“The clause in part comes from the Local Government Act 2002, but this government has changed a critical word which allows for racial preference without an election.

“Instead of stating a local authority “may” appoint people from the outside, it states that the council “must” appoint members nominated by the iwi.

“This has been done by stealth.

“The government and the Maori Party are in cahoots on this.”

The contentious clause is part of an increasing tendency on the part of the Government to give iwi a greater role in local Government.

The Resource Management Legislation Amendment Bill will require local authorities to set up Iwi Participation Agreements which will provide an avenue for iwi to be involved in the preparation of planning policies and district plans.

In practical terms that may well end up with iwi representatives  being appointed to planning committees but what has aroused interest in the Taranaki bill is that the requirement is mandatory.

New Zealand First policy is opposed to ethnic-based positions. It does not stand candidates in the Maori seats as an expression of this.

New Zealand First’s spokesperson on Maori Affairs, Pita Paraone, is resigned to the fact that the party will take a lot of flak from Taranaki iwi over holding the settlement Bill up.

“But they’ve got to understand that has always been a core position for New Zealand first,” he told POLITIK.

Paraone, who chairs the Waitangi National Trust Board, also sympathises with the objections of the northern hapu, Ngati Aukiwa who say the formerly Crown owned  Stony Creek Station at Whangaroa should be returned to their hapu, not the whole Ngatikahu iwi as the settlement bill requires.

Mr Paraone believes that this dispute will end up in Court after the settlement bill is passed.

It  is a long running dispute which has seen Ngati Aukiwa occupy the land at various stages and when the former Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael arrived for the signing of the Agreement in Principle to Settle  at Taemaro Bay, on the Far North’s east coast, in 2007, he had to be protected from angry protesters after being verbally abused and jostled.

Peters says the dispute is reason not to pass another of the rfive settlement Bills, the Ngatikahu Ki Whangaroa Claims Settlement Bill.

“We should put the firepower in, get the facts, and investigate and find a solution so everyone in Whangaroa is happy,” he says.