Squatters at Shelly Bay learn from the PM’s Ihumātao intervention and hunker down for the long haul

We have opened a book, among members of the Point of Order team, on how long it will be before the PM offers to sort out the land dispute at Wellington’s Shelly Bay and (to win the double) how much the settlement will cost taxpayers.

Just a few weeks ago a bunch called Mau Whenua – who are fighting the sale of land at Shelly Bay – were reported to be pinning their hopes on the Māori Land Court to sort things out.

A Stuff report says Mau Whenua is made up mostly of members from Wellington iwi Taranaki Whānui opposed to an earlier sale of Taranaki Whānui land at Shelly Bay to developer Ian Cassels.

The $500 million Shelly Bay project, led by Cassels, is arguably Wellington’s most-controversial development in living memory due to allegations of the illegal sale of Māori land there, perceptions Wellington City Council bent to the will of Cassels, and concerns the seaside site and road to it can’t handle the intensification.

Mau Whenua was due to appear in the High Court in March in an action aimed at overturning the sale.

Alas, a shortage of money became an impediment to this course of action through the legal system when  significant help with funding to pay the $2.2m required to continue the case was withdrawn.

No matter.  Mau Whenua spokesperson Anaru Mepham said the group still had a case with the Māori Land Court where they would be pushing for the judge to look at the contentious land sale.

The RNZ report recording Mepham’s remarks is headed Shelly Bay opponents Mau Whenua pin hopes on Māori Land Court

But don’t imagine they are pinning all of their hopes on the court.

No way.  Litigation is one option.  Occupation is another and – who knows? – this may well result in the PM’s intervention.

At the weekend, not surprisingly, we learned that their occupation at the Shelly Bay site has spread to include a former guard house and gardens.

Furthermore, the squatters have pledged

“ … to stay on for five years or more if needed”.

In other words, if litigation fails – or rather, if the Maori Land Court does not find in the squatters’ favour – the occupation option will be maintained.

Dr Catherine Love, from the group Mau Whenua, said the only thing that would stop the occupation before 2026 was the return of Māori land to Wellington iwi Taranaki Whānui. The five years was not an upper limit, Love said.

They are in for the long haul:

“The secret sale of our land was wrong and remains wrong, and we believe illegal,” Love said. “We will be here for as long as it takes to get our mokopuna’s tūrangawaewae back for them.”

The occupation started as a one-man sentry the day after the Wellington City Council voted  in November to sell and lease public land there to a land developer.

It has grown to include a meeting house, mess hall, gardens, and entrance way, with “hundreds” there daily, according to the Stuff report at the weekend.

And what will the council do about this challenge to its authority and the defiance of the vote in November?

It seems it is in for the long haul, too, and won’t be doing anything in a hurry:

Council spokesman Richard MacLean would not comment on whether it would evict the occupiers if the occupation lasted years.

There’s no suggestion in that response that the council will try to evict the occupiers now.

The government has kept out of the dispute, so far as we can tell.

But ACT leader David Seymour is linking the Shelly Bay dispute to the consequences of the government’s failure to stay out of the protest at Ihumātao, which culminated in the law being circumvented, mob rule being rewarded and taxpayers providing $30 million (so far) to reach an uncertain settlement.

Seymour indignantly recalls that ACT last year warned rewarding protesters at Ihumātao with taxpayer money would promote further squatting.

“We just didn’t think it would happen as quickly as it is in Shelly Bay.”

Seymour should be on a winner with his argument that the prosperity of all New Zealanders rests on a system of property rights that is in turn supported by due process and the rule of law.

But under the Ardern government, old-fashioned notions about property rights, due process and the rule of law are susceptible to being overturned when protesters can wave the Treaty of Waitangi and toss words like “colonialism” and “stolen” into their rhetoric.

Seymour accordingly can contend:

“At Shelly Bay the protestors, no doubt emboldened by the Prime Minister’s actions at Ihumātao, are now having a bob each way. They’ve done the proper thing and taken their grievance over the original sale of the land to the courts, as is the right of every New Zealander, but they’re also trying occupation as plan B.

“Rather than respect the eventual outcome of the court process, they’re occupying private land, and why wouldn’t they? This Government has given every reason to believe it will buy the land and triumphantly claim it avoided this generation’s Bastion Point, as Grant Robertson did in respect of Ihumātao.”

If the Government does intervene at Shelly Bay, Seymour insists it must make plain it is doing so to uphold property rights based on due process and the rule of law, not to undermine them.

But how many readers – we wonder – are confident the PM and her ministers will take that advice.

4 thoughts on “Squatters at Shelly Bay learn from the PM’s Ihumātao intervention and hunker down for the long haul

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