Data obtained under the Official Information Act shows that since November 2008 there have been at least 44 meetings between the former Prime Minister, John Key, the current Prime Minister, Bill English, other senior Ministers, and the Iwi Leaders Group.
Years of positioning for political dominance by the Iwi Leaders Group has materialised in the mana whakahono a rohe/iwi participation clauses in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill which would entrench co-governance and partnership obligations with iwi Maori into local government, creating an under-the-radar constitutional change.
The term “Iwi Leaders Group” encompasses the Iwi Leaders Group, the Iwi Chairs Forum, and the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group.
This combination of groups is not well understood and the letter from the Office of Prime Minister releasing information about the meetings described the Iwi Leaders Group as the “predecessor” to the Iwi Chairs Forum.
The first Iwi Chairs Forum was convened in 2005 by Ngai Tahu at the Takahanga Marae in Kaikoura to share information “between the tangata whenua of Aotearoa”, with hui four times a year hosted at different marae throughout the country, according to the group’s website.
This forum invites Crown representatives, Members of Parliament and stakeholder and community groups to make presentations at hui on projects and issues that concern iwi.
The Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group was formed in 2007 and mandated by the Iwi Chairs Forum to engage directly with senior government Ministers to advance the interests of all iwi in relation to fresh water.
Maori issues commentator Morgan Godfery by way of analogy described the Iwi Leaders Group as equivalent to Cabinet where decisions are made, with the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group and Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group function as subcommittees.
Godfery described the role of prime mover iwi leader Sir Mark Solomon at the beginning of National’s first term, when he joined Kathryn Ryan on Radio NZ on November 29, 2011, in discussing asset sales.
Solomon informed us that at the beginning of National’s first term he and other iwi leaders, by other iwi leaders I assume he means Tuku Morgan, met John Key, Bill English and other senior members of Cabinet. Presumably they met to talk about treaty settlements (relativity clause maybe?) and broader Maori issues. It should be noted the iwi leaders were accompanied by Pita Sharples which indicates that the Maori Party were working to open doors for iwi. . . . Anyway, in the discussions Key said the Government was cash strapped. In response Solomon put forward the idea of asset sales. Apparently, he was rebutted with Key informing him that asset sales are off limits in the first term, however Key (or whoever) indicated their willingness to explore the sales in the second term. So, it appears that iwi were interested in asset sales before the idea was floated publicly, or at least confirmed publicly. I think this is interesting. . .
Solomon also acknowledged during the interview that individually iwi cannot hope to become major players; however, Solomon holds that iwi can become major players as a collective. He argues iwi could obtain between 10-15% of any assets.
This is the manner in which lobbying by iwi leaders is done.
Understanding the lobbying effectiveness in a single meeting, and multiply such a meeting 44 times over eight years, then you may understand how the National Government soon adopted the role of implementing policy dictated by Iwi Leaders through the Maori Party.
Information obtained under the Official Information Act about meetings between iwi leaders and top Government Ministers was limited to the involvement of John Key and Bill English.
The iwi leader groups are non-governmental organisations and as such are beyond the scope of an Official Information Act request.
The letter from the Prime Minister’s Department says that Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister, meet with these groups but do not attend all their meetings. For instance, the Iwi Chairs Forum currently meets around four times a year and the Prime Minister is likely to attend one of these meetings.
Ministers, including the Prime Minister, may also attend other meetings with Iwi Chairs on specific issues. Information was compiled from diary notes with no allowance for cancellations.
Annual meetings on February 5 between Key and English and iwi leaders are well publicised with the 2014 meeting being dubbed “bribe a tribe day” when key offered a financial incentive for Northland tribe Ngapuhi to settle treaty claims.
Of the non-publicised meetings, the Iwi Leaders Group appeared to be the most-consulted group on the foreshore and seabed in 2010 when Key and English had four meetings in two months with them on the issue.
Whanau Ora, the Maori Party’s one-stop-shop welfare plan that had Auditor-General Lyn Provost scratching her head to understand what had been achieved, attracted three meetings involving English, former Social Development Minister Paula Bennet, and former Whanau Ora Minister Tariana Turia.
Freshwater and the Resource Management Act reform was the biggie attracting eight meetings involving Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson, former Agriculture Minister David Carter, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, former Environment Minister Amy Adams, Environment Minister Nick Smith, and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy.
Only 15 of the 44 meetings listed included a discussion topic. Discussion topics at the other 29 meetings remain shrouded in mystery.
As already said, the mana whakahono a rohe/iwi participation agreements that now appear in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill appear the summit of iwi leader aspirations in getting senior Government Ministers to do their bidding.
Analyst Michael Coote has noted that these clauses are the brainchild of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group and would enable Maori tribal co-government with local authorities initiated by iwi authorities.
The mana whakahono a rohe roots lie in the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group’s July/August 2015 presentation which states “Participation and collaboration for iwi must extend to consenting and include: iwi representation on Councils, extending proposed IPAs to consenting, strengthening iwi management plans so that the Resource Management Act (RMA) has to either “give effect to” or “recognise and provide for” in all council decision making.”
The Ministry of the Environment’s February 2016 consultation paper, Next steps for fresh water, echoes and amplifies the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group’s theme.
The National-led Government has allowed regular meetings with a powerful and self-interested business lobby group in a way that would cause an absolute outcry if done by any lacking the sanctimonious cover of being “iwi”.
And the English-led Nats are letting this happen while they are sleep-walking into an election, and just as their worst nightmare, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, is beating the drum he has beaten for years, on the dangers of mushrooming Maori separatism.
First published on the website of the NZ Centre for Political Research on March 19, 2017.
 The rise of the Iwi Leaders Group, Maui St, July 16, 2012. http://mauistreet.blogspot.co.nz/2012/07/rise-of-iwi-leaders-group.html
 Mark Solomon on asset sales, Maui St, November 29, 2011. http://mauistreet.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/mark-solomon-on-asset-sales.html
 Michael Coote, The Smith Reforms, NZCPR, March 12, 2017. http://www.nzcpr.com/the-smith-reforms/