• Doug Graham
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

I am sure all New Zealanders, particularly Maori, will be pleased when all the Treaty claims have been dealt with and the sooner the better. It seems common ground amongst all political parties that they have to be addressed and the Government is always open to ideas as to how the process can be speeded up. The Act party has advanced some suggestions. First it believes there should be a cut off date for the lodging of claims and suggests 1 January 2000. It is thought this would flush out any new claims so we could see the totality of the task.

The government considered doing this a few years ago but decided against it for two reasons. The first was that most claims are now in anyway and although there are over 600 registered, many are from competing tribes for the same losses and are being consolidated. The second reason was that it was thought to be a bit rich to ignore the grievances for over a century and then slap a time limit on. Many claimants know their lands were taken unfairly but have not had the wherewithal to have them properly researched to the standard required by the Crown. It may be that the research shows there's nothing in the claim. So we might end up with hundreds of invalid claims lodged simply to get them in on time. That the claimants want the claim dealt with quickly is obvious. Little would be gained by imposing a time limit which may be seen as quite unfair and cause unnecessary tension.

The next suggestion from Act is extraordinary. It proposes that all claims would have to be researched within 5 years from 2000 or they would miss out. While the time suggested is a laudable goal it simply may not be possible with the limited number of qualified historians available to do the research. Some queuing is inevitable. To refuse to deal with those who don't succeed in getting their research done by the end of year 5 is absurd.

But Act's next suggestion is even more odd. All negotiations and settlements have to be completed within a further 5 years. With the best will in the world that is impossible. The claims are very complex and have to worked through patiently and carefully or they won't last. Further, under this policy, the Crown need only offer $10 to each claimant and sit out the next 5 years after which it's all over! Not a very bright approach.

Then Act says it will make settlements full and final. But that's what's happening now. Settlement legislation contains a prohibition on the claims being brought again in any court or before the Waitangi Tribunal. The Deeds of Settlement contain an acknowledgment that the settlement is fair and final. I am not aware of anything else that could be done.

Finally Act thinks New Zealanders should debate the sort of society we want to have in the new millennium and where the Treaty fits in. I totally agree. We should. The Treaty is our founding document. It requires Maori and non Maori to work together and treat each other with respect and honesty. We must try to avoid future breaches by the Crown or Maori and debate and dialogue is the best way to ensure they do not occur. The principles of the Treaty are not to be feared but seen as guiding principles of fairness. On this issue the government and Act seem to have common views.