Peters' Iwi Takes Government to Court
by Tim Donoghue
This article was orginally published in The Independent on 5th April 2006
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters' Ngati Wai iwi is suing Conservation Minister Chris Carter and the Department of Conservation (DoC) for its handling of consultation issues in Northland about marine reserves and offshore islands.
Peters' brother, Wayne Peters, says Ngati Wai has filed papers in the High Court at Whangarei seeking a judicial review of actions taken by the minister and his department in designating marine reserves.
Among Ngati Wai concerns is the handling by DoC and Carter of the Great Barrier Island marine reserve proposal.
Several Ngati Rehua people, who are part of the Ngati Wai iwi, live on the island.
Wayne Peters said the judicial review application had also precipitated declarations about the Crown actions with other entities, including the Poor Knights Islands.
Ngati Wai elder Hori Te Moanaroa Parata told The Independent there was "a lot of feeling" behind the litigation.
"DoC and the minister think they have been consulting with us. What they have been doing is insulting and almost assaulting us," Parata said.
Carter's office and Winston Peters have refused to comment.
One politician prepared to speak publicly on the issue yesterday was Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia.
She said she was not surprised Ngati Wai had decided to file High Court action in response to the decisions about offshore islands and marine reserves.
"Conservation Minister Chris Carter's surprise announcement to create a [proposed] marine reserve off Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf demonstrates this government's standard response is quickly becoming to ignore its obligations to tangata whenua," Turia said.
"Kaikoura Island and the Ngati Wai Islands have been taken by the Department of Conservation with scant regard for the interests of the mana whenua." Turia said representatives of the Ngati Wai Trust Board had met with Carter in December 2004 and offered an alternative strategy for marine protection.
"I am told Ngati Wai were very committed to working with the government in the interests of responsible marine protection. The rug was literally pulled from under their feet.
"When will this government learn that respectful partnership requires a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with the treaty partner, not ignoring them at their peril?" Turia said.
Wayne Peters said since the Ngati Wai proceedings had been filed in court, there had been "subsequent discussions" with Crown agencies. He declined to name these agencies but said a further round of negotiations was taking place this week.
Depending on the outcome, Ngati Wai might alter its statement of claim against the minister and the department.
At issue, Wayne Peters said, was the need for the Crown to consult properly with Ngati Wai representatives. He said the decision to sue had nothing to do with Winston Peters, his ministerial role or the New Zealand First Party.
Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) officials told The Independent last week the government had serious concerns about the Ngati Wai litigation.
MFish deputy CEO Stan Crothers had recently spent time in Northland discussing marine reserve proliferation concerns at hui organised by Ngapuhi leader Sonny Tau. Other MFish officials participating in these discussions were the manager of the customary relationships team, Carl Ross, and Graeme Morrell from MFish's Pou Hononga unit in Northland.
Crothers did not return The Independent's calls.
Wayne Peters said MFish is not part of Ngati Wai's proceedings. To date, MFish has not been involved in "any real meaningful discussions" with the Ngati Wai Trust Board about the Great Barrier Island marine reserve. But DoC needs approval from MFish before it can declare a marine reserve on Great Barrier.
Winston Peters himself entered national politics in 1975 when he stood unsuccessfully for the National Party in the Northern Maori seat.
A major issue for him at the time involved a political fight to retain ancestral Ngati Wai land. The ownership was threatened by the then Labour government's plans to create public coastal land reserves.
Wayne Peters said yesterday the two issues were not related.
The latest legal action involved marine issues under the Conservation Act whereas in the 1970s Winston Peters was involved in land-based issues.
"It's got nothing to do with what's going on now," Wayne Peters said.
Members of the Peters family's Ngati Wai iwi live along the coastline from Whangaroa to Whangarei.