Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tribunal caves in before settlement steamroller

A very important piece in today’s New Zealand Herald, hidden behind its premium content wall.

David Williams, who has been involved in 14 Waitangi Tribunal inquiries starting with assisting Joe Hawke of Ngati Whatua back in 1977, is warning of the rush to settlements under current negotiating processes.

Some of this rush came out of the Government's post-election support arrangements with the New Zealand First and United Future, who have never shown much support for Maori aspirations.

Williams says the Waitangi Tribunal “has sought to avoid further marginalisation by tailoring its inquiries and their outcomes as closely as possible to the Crown's settlement policies.”

The evidence is two papers published by the Tribunal in December, The Waitangi Tribunal and the Settlement of Historical Treaty Claims and The new approach revisited: a discussion paper on the Waitangi Tribunal's current and developing practices.

To quote: "The short point is that the Tribunal is ready, willing and able to facilitate negotiation in line with Government and claimant aspirations for all Treaty claims to be settled as soon as possible."

“The Tribunal's new approach as now enunciated is profoundly disturbing. The Crown's settlement policy was adopted in 1995, despite an immense wave of opposition following the Hirangi hui of that year,” says Williams.

“It was adopted before the hearing of claimants' or Crown evidence in most districts of the country, yet allocated a ballpark figure for redress payments to hapu and iwi in the whole country and created a template for cultural redress remedies. This was akin to a court deciding on damages payable to plaintiffs, and other possible remedies available to them, in advance of hearing the evidence.

“All crucial elements of that policy were reaffirmed by the new Government in 2000 and continue to be implemented to this day.

In my view, the outcomes of Tribunal hearings should depend on the nature and the strength of the evidence put before it.“

Williams says the tribunal is now recommending claimants negotiate settlements in a single district-wide negotiation process for a comprehensive settlement.

He urged the tribunal go back to offering specific recommendations, as it did in reports back in the 1980s.

“The recommendations should relate to the proved strength of the claimants' cases in a hapu specific and location specific manner. The remedies recommended should bear some relationship to the evidence and the need for resolution of specific grievances. The Tribunal should do more than act as a conveyor belt that moves claimants along an orderly, lawyer-prescribed pathway towards acceptance of the Government's template for the settlement of historical claims.”

He says fast tracking is weakening the whoe settlement process, and are no more likely to bring an end to historic claims than the processes adopted by the first Labour Government in 1944 and the Muldoon National Government in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“If Maori of this generation are again offered a ‘this is as good as it will get so take it or leave it’ settlement package, then neither they nor their mokopuna are likely to feel that the Tribunal and Crown settlement process has succeeded as an exercise in seeking truth and reconciliation,” Williams said.

Well said. It is clear many claimants are starting to consider the penny ante settlements currently going through as down payments, and iwi will get what they can and wait for another generation to get true justice.


Blogger ndmasmara said...

Dear Adam

I am a Ghanaian academic living now in Australia teaching at Monash Law School. I used to live in New Zealand from 1992-1999 teaching law at Waikato Management School. I am about to start writing a monograph on Treaty settlement issues pulling together work I did for MfE; Te Ohu Kai Moana and a number of other organisations whilst I was in New Zealand.

I found Te Korero invaluable for keeping up with and understanding what was going on both whilst I was there and since I moved here.

I am wondering whether the back copies up until 2003 are archived somewhere on the net. Alternatively, what would the price be for a complete set, since much of my referencing to events will be coming from what was an amazing magazine in its usual blue four pages.


Kwame Mfodwo
Monash Law School

11:12 PM  
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