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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Full and final

Cost of saying sorry to Aborigines may be billions:
Even A$1 billion would dwarf the $793.7 million in compensation awarded to Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The two largest of $170 million each were for Tainui and Ngai Tahu.

The Australians have a long way to go compared with this country as far as reconciliation and decolonisation go of course, but our efforts (to borrow Trevor Mallard's favourite expression) haven't been too flash either.

Take the last three Crown-Iwi agreements in the news over the last week:

Waikato River Agreement in Principle signed
Agreement in principle on Taranaki Whanui
Bill returns the title of Mauao to tangata whenua

They are part of the government's "final" settlement of "historical" Treaty of Waitangi related claims (for everything pre-1992). For the Iwi it is just one step in a wider process. Each generation of kaumatua who have seen the generations before them battle all their life and get nowhere - or next to nowhere - with the Crown must have an immense personal pressure from their people and the weight of history. It must be very tempting to sign something that is such a long time in coming.

What they are agreeing is a de facto peace treaty with the Crown - a pact that will bind both and define each other's role and the status of their respective property rights within an area. It concludes a period of Crown hostilities and dispute with the Iwi. The problem is that with these agreements, as with the ones in the past, it is unsatisfactory and unjust. These agreements put into statute by the parliament of the day at the behest of the government of the day are expedient fixes designed to placate the immediate demands of compensation by way of a cash payment to the group negotiating the deal on the one hand and a few symbolic changes in paperwork back to what they should have been in the first place on the other.

If you look at the Taranaki Whanui deal for example you'll see that amongst all the hoopla about getting millions in disused Crown land even an official in a department can veto that whole idea. There's a clause in there about having the bed of the lake returned but it cannot effect how it is used by others and the scientific reserve that it sits in is retained by the Crown. This is not serious. "See - we put your name in brackets here on the title deed - good eh?" And there's another clause about the Crown sending a letter to the airport company to introduce the Iwi and ask that they be included in some bullshit consultation committee - just padding to cover up the fact that they are pissing away their territorial, sovereign and property rights for some coin. It's cost the Iwi over $5 million costs already - and the government won't even say they'll pay the full amount of that either. You see how desperate they may become to settle if they have a huge legal bill - the Crown on the other hand has multi-billion dollar cash surpluses projected to continue ad infinitum.

I don't know all the details of these cases, but the Crown, the party that acknowledges its injustice in the past cannot then legislate that retrospectively it was all effectively and legally OK because now the victim has been duressed over decades into accepting the pittance on offer or else it would get nothing. That is what is happening here. The land-grabs, confiscation and swindles of the past are being legalised with these bills. The Crown is getting pretty much everything its own way - that is what happens when you "negotiate" with a party that can do anything it wants unrestrained by the judicial system. Any deal coming out of that process is highly questionable and will always be tainted.

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