David Clendon

A day to remember as Waikato River Settlement Bill passes into law

by David Clendon

Things must have been fairly quiet in parts of the Waikato yesterday (May 6th).  That’s because an awful lot of ‘the locals’ were in Wellington, filling the galleries and the Grand Hall at Parliament, to witness up close and personal the passing of the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Bill.

It was a remarkable afternoon in the House, made more so by the presence of the Maori King Te Arikinui Tuheitia Paki.  The Bill was supported by all but one of the parties in Parliament, so there was quite a celebratory tone and some powerful speeches, many in te reo. I made the effort to say something sensible on behalf of the Greens (you can go here to see if I succeeded!)

As well as (at last) recognising the rights of mana whenua, and that the river was taken illegally by a combination of military and legislative action, the bill puts in place some very positive practical remedies.  It sets up a River Authority, with equal numbers of mana whenua and government appointees, who will work under a co-management arrangement with the primary goal of restoring the health and the mauri of the river.

This model is new for New Zealand, and no doubt it will hit some speed bumps, but it could also inform the format of other settlements still to come.

I would seldom suggest that people read legislation for fun, but in this case it is worth a look at the preamble to the bill (click on Download PDF, preamble is p.6) and the 1st schedule (starts at p.85) which gives the flavour of what has been agreed and the vision and strategy for the future.

The proof of the deal will be in its implementation, as ever, and one hopes all the goodwill expressed today translates into action and positive outcomes for the River and the Waikato – Tainui people.

I suspect the Speaker was a little less diligent than usual in his timekeeping, when it came to the final speech from Hon. Nanaia Mahuta, and that was a good thing, because she spoke with remarkable honesty and with a passion worthy of the occasion.  Following the vote there was an immensely satisfying waiata and haka performed by those in the gallery.

A memorable day, and now the House goes into recess for a week, so we can all get on with our other work around the motu!