The Waitangi Tribunal has rejected a challenge from some Māori organisations about the role of iwi in resource management reforms, saying it found no treaty breach.
But it did endorse the role of non-tribal organisations like the Māori Council having a role in the reforms.
Under its proposed Natural and Built Environments Bill, the government has proposed regional planning committees with Māori representatives, with iwi and hapū taking a lead role in appointing them.
But the Māori Council, supported by pan-urban groups like the Federation of Māori Authorites, took an urgent claim last month, saying they deserved a lead role too.
To do otherwise, they argued, would constitute a breach, and that post-settlement iwi organisations were Crown constructs that did not represent all Māori.
That was a claim that outraged many iwi organisations, including Ngāti Whātua and Ngāi Tahu, who said that as mana whenua they were best positioned to determine representation on their land.
In its submission, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu laid out the structures of its 18 papatipu rūnanga, and how it was mana whenua of Te Waipounamu. Post-settlement entities, it argued, were not western, but modernisation of iwi and hapū structures.
In a response, several iwi said the Māori Council - formed by legislation in the 1960s - was a westernised institution that many whānau would not have heard of.
In its interim report published on Friday, the Tribunal found no breach in the setting up of the representation bodies, but it did note the details were still being worked out.
But it also affirmed that organisations like the Māori Council should be engaged in the process.
"We have found that the Crown's proposal that iwi and hapū should lead and facilitate the process to decide an appointing body is Treaty compliant at a high level of principle," it wrote.
"Noting that all the detail had not been decided at the time of the hearing."
In a statement, the New Zealand Māori Council said it endorsed the findings.
"The Waitangi Tribunal recognises that not just iwi, but hapū, urban Māori communities and Māori Land owners all have a role," it said.
"New Zealand Māori Council support the inclusive approach that the Tribunal has taken as being consistent with tikanga."
Māori Council national secretary Peter Fraser said representation was an important issue that needed to be considered by the tribunal.
"The council's primary concern was the proposed bill would incorporate a narrow selection process centred on iwi and focussed around Post Settlement Governance Entities only," Fraser said.
"It was the council's view that for the planning process to be legitimate, it needed to be representative and include hapū, Māori communities and land owners."
However, the Tribunal did say it was unable to reach a view on the overall process, with an eye on how treaty settlements will be transitioned into the new system.
"The bespoke arrangements negotiated through Treaty settlements and other processes would potentially trump or even displace the proposed appointments process in some regions," it wrote.
"This has understandably led to a loss of confidence in the Crown's ability to deliver what is proposed, and most parties expressed misgivings about this situation."
One example of this is the Ngāi Tahu Act 1996, where existing arrangements could trump the proposed reforms, with the iwi submitting: "The difficulty with the Crown proposal, from the Ngāi Tahu perspective, is that it is ambiguous and does not expressly state it will comply with its Treaty obligations to Ngāi Tahu."
The Crown responded that it would consider settlement acts, and work directly with iwi to ensure settlements are held.
A statement that offered little comfort to Ngāi Tahu: "Until the Crown's proposal expressly states it will be bound by the legislation, the view of Te Rūnana
"Until the Crown's proposal expressly states it will be bound by this legislation, the view of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu is that it is not compliant with its Treaty and statutory obligations."
The NZ Māori Council, Te Kaunihera Māori, welcomes the Interim Report from the Waitangi Tribunal on Māori Appointments to Regional Planning Committees under the proposed Natural and Built Environments Bill, which is intended to replace the now 30-year-old Resource Management Act.
Peter Fraser, National secretary, noted:
“The Council has a long and proud history of advocating on the “big issues” that are important to Māori – and determining a Treaty compliant process to select Māori representation on the processed regional planning committees on brand new legislation is such an issue’.
The Council’s primary concern was the proposed Bill would incorporate a narrow selection process centred on iwi and focused around Post Settlement Governance Entities (PSGEs) only. It was the Council’s view that for the planning process to be legitimate it needed to be representative and include hapū, Māori communities and land owners.
“The Tribunal has clearly accepted the Council’s concerns about inclusiveness, Mr Fraser said. They have come up with a solution – that whilst different to the one the Council suggested – nevertheless addresses our concerns. As the principal claimant, the Council supports the conclusions the Tribunal has reached”.
The Council, along with the Federation of Māori Authorities (FOMA) and Kahui Wai Māori has worked closely with officials from the Ministry for the Environment officials and senior Ministers for almost two years on the resource management reform process as part of the Te Tai Kaha Collective.
Mr Fraser noted:
“The Council is heartened to see the journey the Crown has made in terms of recognising the vital role hapū have in resource management processes – and this is testament to the critical importance of co-design as a means of developing Treaty compliant legislation.”
Whilst the Tribunal did not issue formal recommendations, its conclusions are nevertheless important and potentially far reaching.
Key points include:
• Recognising the importance of Māori communities in place, and the tino rangatiratanga those communities have in terms of the built environment
• Outlining a process whereby the tino rangatiratanga of Māori communities is reflected in regional planning processes
• Suggesting a process whereby organisations such as the Council and FOMA can play a facilitation role, which needs to be adequately funded by the Crown
• Reflecting the near universal view that regional planning committees needed to be established on a co-governance basis, with an equal representation of Māori.
New Zealand Māori Council endorses the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal that the Marae and other Māori communities are adequately consulted on appointment to the proposed resource management committees. The Waitangi Tribunal recognises that not just iwi, but hapū, urban Māori communities and Māori Land owners all have a role. New Zealand Māori Council supports the inclusive approach that the Tribunal has taken as being consistent with Māori customary ethics (tikanga).