Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits?

In March Pita Sharples and Chris Finlayson launched a discussion document written by a panel set up to review Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993:

“Mäori land is a taonga and resource which should be able to be used for the benefit of the owner, their whänau and future generations, free from unnecessary obstacles created by legislation.

“That is why this review of the functioning of Te Ture Whenua Mäori Act 1993 was commissioned. The expert panel was asked for suggestions on how to improve the Act for the benefit of Mäori land owners.

“Mäori land tenure and the system for administering Mäori land has been considered many times over the years. One of the central challenges has always been to find a way to allow for the effective management and development of a communal heritage asset which is held by individual interests, and is increasingly fragmented”.

OK so far.

“Research shows that the existing legislation does not achieve this. Eighty percent of Mäori land is currently underdeveloped and ignored by some disengaged owners. Through this review, we have the chance to put hundreds of millions of dollars extra into the hands of whänau, hapü and iwi while ensuring better guardianship of this taonga”.

A step too far I think ministers.

You have invoked once again the false dogma of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi construct that has informed Maori policy for decades. The iwi-hapu-whanau hierarchy was invented by early Pakeha commentators and officials keen to confine Maori cultural, social and economic complexity and diversity into a simple easy to deal with construct. I shall write more of that in a later blog. Suffice to say that as a result of that false construct driving policy in other areas of economic activity, Maori assets are now passing into the hands of “corporate iwi”, collective economic super-entities that did not exist at all, at any time in our history, until the advent of the fisheries settlements and Treaty settlements.

For the moment individual Maori landowners and whanau landowners should be very wary of the notion that their dividends (“hundreds of millions of dollars”) might end up in the “hands of whanau, hapu and iwi”. Landowners should be vigilant to ensure that their land assets do not also pass into the hands of these new corporate entities.

Having said that one cannot but agree that something needs to be done to bring as much Maori owned land as possible into the productive sector of the New Zealand economy (as opposed to the fanciful notion of a “Maori economy”), and to encourage Maori agri-business to engage in the global economy. The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected.

The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected.

I have watched the evolution of Maori development or Maori advancement since my teenage years when in 1960 my father discussed with me the Hunn Report on the Department of Maori Affairs. At the time it was a landmark study on the place of Maori in New Zealand society. I still have our copy in my archives somewhere. Since then there has been an evolving and often cyclical and repetitive raft of ideology and dogma, legislation and policy, programmes and projects, delivery mechanisms and providers. I participated in much of it from about 1980 onwards.

I have drawn two main conclusions from over fifty years of observation and participation. Firstly, that little of the ideology and dogma, the policy and legislation and few of the programmes and projects have been based on evidential research, and that none of it has been followed by robust evaluation to measure effectiveness. As a result most of it has been ineffective. Secondly, that all of it purports to be on behalf of and for the  benefit of “Maori”, a nebulous generalization that takes little account of the complexity and diversity, and increasingly the urban and global location, of Maori society. As at December 2012 there were 682,200 of us in Aotearoa New Zealand. Who among us benefits? Tell me their names.

Investigative journalists often “follow the money” to find the truth of a matter. I have long asked the question, “Who benefits?” It is a question that gets right to the core.

Who benefits from this new push, as one participant describes it, to work with owners to protect and build their land and other assets, and to assist the overall improvement of the [mythical] “Maori economy”?

With the retirement of my generation from much of the governance and management of Maori owned economic assets the next generation is taking over. In the main it is better educated and better qualified, and more suited to the task in the modern New Zealand and global economy, than both my generation and my father’s generation. There has emerged among them a new Maori political and economic elite replacing a tired old elite, We used to refer to the top tier of that old elite as the “Brown Table”.

In ancient times all resources were in the hands of the hereditary chiefs, the original elites who were themselves deposed by the missionaries and by the Native Land Court. Nothing much changes.

The transition to the new elite has not always been gentlemanly, sometimes politically brutal, but that is the way of transitions from elites to elites. Some remove themselves gracefully and some are pushed. The transition has been helped by the Maori Party’s influence in Government and many of the new elite are Maori Party members and/or nominees. As is the case with all elites some are deserving of their new found influence and some are not. Some live up to their own PR and some do not.

The new elite is now in control or in the process of gaining control of “corporate iwi”, incorporations, trusts and other entities  including a wide range of publicly funded service providers. Its members form a managerial class of employee, whether at the governance or management level. Many of them are in secure employment in a sector that did not exist twenty years ago. And that employment might for many of them provide life-long careers. Some of them will springboard from there into politics. Like their counterparts in the broader corporate sector and in the disastrous global finance sector their interests are not always compatible with the interests of the owners. Salaries and bonuses are often more important than dividends. Management will built bloated and costly empires and over-reward itself if allowed to.

And although the role of management is ringawera rather than rangatira, the distinction is almost always lost in the fog of ambition.

I stated earlier that in relation to the review of Maori land law, “The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected”

No-one should suffer under the illusion that the interests of the managers, the new elite, are the same as the interests of the landowners, or the same as the interests of all “Maori”. They are the interests of the elite. As it ever was, mai rano.