Labour’s land-grab claim shows cracks in claimed treaty settlements consensus

The Labour Party’s sudden opposition to a bill that would enable some Auckland reserve land to be used in a treaty settlement for housing appears to show cracks in the claimed cross-party consensus on treaty settlements.

Anyone who dares to criticise treaty settlements, whether the dollar amount of financial redress or the shaky basis of many of the claims, is told that “everyone agrees” that these settlements are “the right thing to do”.

However, no public referendum has ever been held on the issue and the claimed universal agreement appears to be limited to a changing handful of MPs in Parliament.

The Point England Development Enabling Bill is to enable housing on 11.69ha of land on the Point England Recreation Reserve, an area that comprises 45.43ha and includes sports fields, a walkway, and other facilities for recreation.

The summary of the legislation says that a portion of the reserve, of at least 18 hectares, has had little investment, and public use is restricted as it is fenced for grazing.(1)

While the enabling bill seems innocuous enough, Point England is the latest of a number of areas where reserve land and the treaty settlement leviathan have come face-to-face.

In 2014, Hauraki Collective member Ngati Hei were offered a beachfront strip of land that encircles the small Coromandel town of Pauanui as part of a settlement, upsetting locals at the prospect of having sea views blocked by housing.(2)

In 2012, there was a heated clash over the inclusion of a 3.2ha Navy site at Devonport in a settlement with Ngati Whatua o Orakei that locals expected to be added to the Fort Takapuna reserve. The Navy site was fenced off and studded with buildings used for officer training and other activities.(3)

That site was included in that tribe’s 2012 settlement, along with an agreement for the iwi to buy Navy housing land there for $90-million.

The tribe has since released a proposal to replace the 82 Navy houses there with 330 new homes, including five-storey apartments, which itself sparked protests over increased traffic.(4)

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford announced on Friday that his party had dropped support for the Point England Development Enabling Bill and labelled the move a "land grab".(5)

The 300-home development has emerged as one of the most controversial local issues in the lead-up to September’s election in the Maungakiekie electorate, which includes Penrose, Panmure, Onehunga and Royal Oak.

Maungakiekie is a marginal seat and Labour's candidate Priyanca Radhakrishnan will be aiming to wrest it back off National after current MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga announced his retirement from Parliament.

National's candidate is Auckland Councillor Denise Lee (formerly Denise Krum).

Labour's opposition has disappointed Ngati Paoa, who said without the land there would be no Treaty settlement between it and the Crown.

"By opposing the legislation Labour is opposing a Treaty settlement bill - for the first time in the history of the Treaty settlement process," said Hauauru Rawiri, chief executive of Ngati Paoa Iwi Trust.

Both Twyford and the tribe displayed more than a whiff of hypocrisy, the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.

Twyford, who has constantly attacked the Government for being slow to respond to a “housing crisis”, a “crisis” that has been heavily exploited by Twyford for political gain, has now come out opposing a housing development to boost the election chances of his party.

And the Ngati Paoa Iwi Trust declared in the same press release that it wanted “to regain ownership and control of significant customary land at Te Tauoma” although they “deliberately sought this land for housing development”.(6)

In other words, they claim a long emotional relationship with this piece of land but they also want to sell the land as soon as they get it!

Spot the tangled web. The National Government sees reserve land as the line of least resistance to settle a treaty claim and boost Auckland housing by having a friendly tribe do the work.

The friendly tribe talks up victimhood and a customary claim and sees a fast-track to substantial profits.

The beleaguered Labour Opposition sees opposition by Point England residents to the housing some reserve land as a means to win a seat from National.

Claims that proceeds of any sale of the reserve would be reinvested in Point England show a lack of clarity about the ownership of the reserve, which is vested in the Auckland Council with underlying Crown title. (7)

That seems to imply that any sale of the reserve would be by the Auckland Council to the Government, although Auckland mayor Phil Goff said in a council newsletter that he accepted that "the Government has the sovereign right to sell the land".(8)

One thing that is clear is that no money would be returned by the tribe in exchange for the land. The land would be given to the tribe as part of the dollar amount of financial redress.

Meanwhile, the claimed cross-party consensus on treaty settlements slips down the list of priorities when more tangible gains are to be made.

First published at the New Zealand Centre for Political Research on March 26, 2017.


1. Point England Development Enabling Bill.
2. Pauanui opposes reserve giveaway, NZCPR, January 10, 2014.
3. Whose land is it anyway, NZ Herald, April 7, 2012.
4. Devonport residents concerned, Stuff, March 21, 2016.
5. Point England housing development opposed, NZ Herald, March 24, 2017.
6. Labour stance on Pt England, Waatea News, March 24, 2017.
7. Goff says Point England sale proceeds would be reinvested in public land. December 6, 2016.
8. Ibid