The central piece of legislation governing Māori land, Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, has, over the last couple of years, been the subject of a major review. A discussion document was produced in May 2013 with a final report from an expert panel released in May 2014. After a period of consultation (and also following the 2014 General Election and a change of ministerial portfolios, including the appointment of a new Minister of Māori Development), a ministerial advisory group was appointed in February 2015 to progress the high-level reforms recommended by the expert panel towards the introduction of a bill to replace Te Ture Whenua Māori. At the end of May 2015 a draft bill (or an ‘exposure bill’) was released along with a consultation document. Consultation hui began almost immediately after that and submissions were originally due by 3 July 2015. That deadline was subsequently extended to 7 August 2015.
The Bill is complex and provides a radical overhaul of Māori land law rather than simply being directed at fixing some of the problematic issues of Te Ture Whenua Māori. I do not intend to provide a detailed analysis of the Bill here, but some striking features include:
– the Bill significantly reduces the role of the Māori Land Court, which may be supported by some Māori land owners, but will be of concern to others;
– the purpose of the Bill weakens the emphasis on rentention of Māori land in the hands of its owners that is currently present in the Act; and
– the Bill introduces a raft of new terms and definitions that one imagines will create a period of some uncertainty as the interpretation and application of those terms are tested in the courts.
I would make just a couple of further points in relation to the consulation process. First, the consultation document that was released with the draft bill is pure PR spin. It is not at all helpful in understanding how the bill will change the legislation governing Māori land. In fact, I would go so far as to say that reading the consultation document is actually an obstacle to understanding those changes. Also, it is difficult to see how any useful feedback on a bill that is the size and complexity of this one could be gleaned from consultation hui that took place largely before Māori communities had an opportunity to get to grips with the detail of the bill and have internal discussions about the implications of the proposed changes.
As noted above, submissions now close on 7 August 2015. The Minister has stated that he is aiming to introduce a bill in to Parliament before the end of the year.
UPDATE: The Minister has now announced that he “intends to allow for more time to develop the Ture Whenua Māori Bill within an expanded work programme” with the aim of introducing a bill into the House early next year.