The Labour Party has released its Māori Development policy that includes their intention to ensure that all historical Treaty settlements are completed by 2020. The National Party had previously set a target of 2014 to have Deeds of Settlement completed with all outstanding groups. This target will not be met despite the accelerated speed of settlements under the current government. Keeping in mind that speed is not, of course, equivalent to quality, it should be obvious that nobody is more anxious to complete just and durable settlements than those whose claims are to be settled. I am, nonetheless, cautious about the way in which these targets are articulated. Such targets may be beneficial if they signal that a high priority is to be placed on the resolution of these issues and resources are to be directed to the claims and settlement process accordingly. However, they can be problematic if the intention is to simply impose a deadline for political reasons. In that case it may merely act as one more unilaterally imposed constraint on the settlement process which ultimately undermines both their justice and durability (which I would argue are both fragile enough as it is).
In its Strategic Direction paper released last month, the Waitangi Tribunal is also aiming to complete its inquiries into historical claims by 2020. In that document, covering the period 2014-2025, the Tribunal sets out five categories of claims to assist it to prioritise work according to its strategic objectives:
- Final district inquiries and remaining historical claims (to be completed by 2020);
- High priority kaupapa claims [thematic claims, often related to a contemporary policy issue, often of national significance] (to be progressed by 2020);
- Remaining kaupapa claims [especially those with a historical grievance not addressed by the settlement process] (to be substantially advanced or completed by 2025);
- Address the backlog of contemporary claims (by 2025); and
- Address urgent claims arising from Treaty settlement processes and any kaupapa or contemporary claims granted urgency (to be dealt with urgently as they arise).
Although the 2020 timeframe is the issue that has gained media attention, this timeframe has been announced by Labour as part of a much wider Māori Development policy. Even within the section on the Treaty of Waitangi, there are many more interesting measures proposed. Amongst other things, Labour proposes to:
- implement a Treaty education programme for stakeholders and communities
- continue to work with hapū and iwi on innovative redress models to best reflect the nature of their claims under the Treaty of Waitangi
- review the various mechanisms that give effect to the Crown’s ongoing obligations arising from the Treaty settlement process – the intent will be to report on the implementation of such commitments.
- review the role and function of the Waitangi Tribunal once historical treaty claims have been settled, recognising that the inherent nature of the Tribunal has been to consider the way in which the Crown has upheld its obligations as a Treaty partner.
There is also a section on post-settlement relationships in which Labour commits to:
- work in partnership with hapū and iwi to develop relevant Governance frameworks that recognise the unique collective feature of tribal wealth and resources
- consider the active partnership opportunities that can be forged with iwi on projects of national significance
- work with hapū, iwi and Māori to quantify the contribution of its economy on real growth and productivity predictors that inform its economic policy
- work in partnership with Māori to develop a unique export trade window that platforms industry participation in niche markets
- consider Māori business and services equally in the tendering and procurement of services in its regional economic growth initiatives.
Importantly, the policy recognises the ongoing obligations that the Crown has, not only in the implementation of Treaty settlements, but, more broadly, as a result of the continuing Treaty partnership. This is important because the Treaty of Waitangi created a relationship that will continue to exist beyond 2020, whether all historical claims are settled by that date or not.