The Radio New Zealand headline was emphatic – Ihumātao protest: Govt will not intervene, PM says.
Some four months later we can put this into the same political leadership category as Bill Clinton’s equally emphatic “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
The RNZ headline sat atop a July 24 report about Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern’s response to an appeal by one of the leaders of the land protest at Ihumātao, while hundreds of demonstrators and dozens of police officers were at the site.
Pania Newton, the co-founder of Save our Unique Landscape (SOUL), asked Ardern to reserve Ihumātao as a historic place through the use of the public works act.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would not intervene.
“Ultimately we are falling on the side of the local iwi [who support the housing development] and their position. They are not the ones leading the protest here and so if we come in over the top, it really would be undermining the local iwi in this case.”
Other bigwigs in the government reinforced this:
New Zealand First MP Shane Jones urged protesters at Ihumātao to stand down and respect the wishes of their kaumātua.
“It’s probably got to the point that they should not belittle or trample on the mana of the kaumātua who have negotiated a compromise with Fletchers,” Mr Jones said.
Labour MP Kelvin Davis said it would be inappropriate for the government to step in and resolve the dispute at Ihumātao because its an internal issue among iwi.
Mr Davis said it was not just Fletchers Building and police trying to evict protesters, it was also mana whenua from Te Kawerau ā Maki.
But Point of Order has seen all the signs since then of the PM’s July 24 pledge being progressively pulped to become a pile of political pap. We were not surprised, therefore, to read the latest RNZ headline – Ihumātao: Crown considers loan for Auckland Council to buy land.
Discussions are under way for Auckland Council to buy the disputed Ihumātao land in a bid to break the three-year deadlock.
Sources have told RNZ the Crown is considering loaning money to the council so it can purchase the land from Fletcher Residential, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fletcher Building.
Fletcher is seeking $40 million for the property – more than double the $19m it paid in 2014.
RNZ’s understanding is that the government is keen to get the controversial land dispute wrapped up by the new year to avoid it overshadowing the annual pilgrimage to Rātana and Waitangi.
If Maori want to buy the land from Fletchers, of course, surely there’s nothing to stop them striking a deal.
But RNZ’s report rules out this option which has the huge advantage of ensuring the over-burdened taxpayer – and/or ratepayer – does not have to pick up yet another settlement tab. It says:
Some commentators had speculated that Waikato-Tainui might purchase the land, but that prospect ground to a halt.
In the light of the PM’s pledge to keep out of the controversy, it is understandable Finance Minister Grant Robertson is saying precious little.
He is leading the talks around a resolution.
But in a statement to RNZ, he said the government was continuing efforts to find a solution that respected “all parties including the Crown, mana whenua and Fletchers”
“These matters are complex and are taking some time to work through, but all parties are working on negotiating a solution that satisfies everyone involved,” he said.
Really? We will be agreeably surprised if taxpayers and/or ratepayers are satisfied.
Oh – and in light of the July 24 commitment to keep out of the dispute, what is Ardern telling us?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report today: “The only thing I can confirm is since the king and kiingitanga handed to us some of the outcome of their work with mana whenua that we have been working really hard on finding a solution and that’s work that’s ongoing so I cannot confirm any final resolution, any details around anything beyond the fact that we in fact have remained involved in this issue since July and continue to work hard to find a solution.
“We’ve got a couple of principles here we are working to. One of course is the will and desire of mana whenua and the other, importantly, is not undermining the treaty … the third of course is that Fletchers have gone into a development arrangement here in good faith and of course have development interests here too … and I am confident we will find a way through, but again, I’m not going to speculate.”
You can hear the PM here.
The RNZ report says Fletcher Building bought the land in 2014. Property records show the company paid $19 million, when the rateable value was $11.5m.
After buying the land, Fletcher Building struck a deal with Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority to return 8ha to mana whenua.
Responding to the RNZ report, Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams said:
“This is cowardly stuff, and sets a dangerous precedent. Other protest groups will be hungrily looking at other parcels of land to seize with taxpayer money.”
“More than 6,000 New Zealanders signed a petition calling on the Government not to use taxpayer cash to get involved. Jacinda Ardern should listen.”
“If Waikato-Tainui want to purchase the land, let them. But Jacinda Ardern and Phil Goff riding to the rescue with the taxpayer cheque book is cowardly.”
“What rubs salt into the wound is that the campaigners on this issue, a left wing protest group called Action Station, has received taxpayer funds via publicly funded NetSafe.”
The Taxpayers’ Union will deliver its petition to Parliament today.