David Garrett: Full and final treaty settlements?


From  the time of  its election in 2008 this government has done one thing consistently – pay out large sums of taxpayers’ money to supposedly achieve “full and final” settlements of a plethora of Maori grievances. Almost every week the galleries of Parliament are filled by one group of Maori or another who proceed to sing beautifully as the Bill settling “their” grievance, supposedly once and for all,  is passed into law.

Each recently enabling law contains a lengthy recitation of what “the Crown” did wrong all those years ago, and makes a cringing apology for it. But that won’t in fact  be the end of it, and all the players – including the Attorney General, who is responsible for the settlements and the laws giving effect to them –  know it.

First some history.  In the 1940’s the Labour government of the day made real and genuine efforts to settle Maori grievances which had been festering for years – and they had been, despite the claims of some  that Maori  “grievance” is  a very recent  phenomenon.  To take just one example, it is quite true that since their land was confiscated after the Land Wars of the 1860’s, Tainui bitterly protested  what they claimed was unjust and unlawful  confiscations of land.  They were right, and the findings of a Royal Commission support them.

Back in 1926, the government of the day set up the Sim Commission – chaired by a  Supreme Court Judge –   to investigate   claims of unjust land confiscations in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Taranaki. Its report was released in 1927, and recommended   that  annual compensation of about $500,000  in today’s money be made. For twenty years, nothing happened, and the grievances festered through another generation.

Then, after further pressure from Tainui,  came the Waikato-Maniapoto Maori Claims Settlement Act of 1946, which gave force to an agreement reached personally between Prime Minister Peter Fraser and Princess Te Puea. In his  authorized biography “Te Puea”,  Michael King devotes a chapter to  the settlement negotiations, and in particular the final session, at which Fraser agreed to pay 5000 pounds (a million dollars today) per year for ever, and an additional 1000 pounds per year for 45 years, commencing in 1947. King records that Te Puea was so surprised by Fraser’s generosity that she urged her chief negotiator to his feet to accept, before Fraser could change his mind.  Then, in Maori, Te Puea  said, according to King: “all is now settled”.

Similar Acts as that settling the Tainui confiscation grievance  were passed around the same time, settling the claims by Taranaki iwi and Ngai Tahu. All of those  Acts were overturned less than 50 years later, in the 1990’s,  when it became politically expedient for the government of the day to “settle” the grievances once again.

It is now claimed that for at least three reasons,  the settlements of the 1940’s were invalid: firstly that  those  settlements  were negotiated with the wrong people; and/or   they were for trifling sums; and/or  that  the sums agreed upon  were eroded by inflation. None of those  three claims stand up to scrutiny.

As to the first , it didn’t get any higher than the PM on one side, and the undisputed matriarch of her iwi and the  most respected Maori leader of her day on the other. As to the “trifling sums” claim, that is clearly nonsense.

My research shows that in 1946, 6000 pounds was about the value of an average dairy farm, or about $2 million today.

It is certainly true that


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