Racism, bigotry, redneckery: it’s all on display in Devonport, an upmarket suburb on Auckland’s North Shore. The local residents have their hackles up over a treaty deal that will include a 3.2ha block at Narrow Neck. The block is currently used by the Navy.
Under the settlement, Ngati Whatua will be given the opportunity to purchase the block. Once the land passes into Ngati Whatua's hands, local residents fear the tribe will develop the land. This is unfounded. The Navy will continue to lease the land for the next 15 years at least. With this in mind, the character of the area will not change in the medium term. Put simply, the status quo will remain.
Even if Ngati Whatua refuses to extend the Navy’s lease, district plan rules prevent intensive development. Under the recreation rules in the North Shore District Plan, this plan is still operative in the absence of the Auckland Unitary plan by the way, any development on or adjacent to reserve land is restricted in height, must be compatible with “the character of the reserve”, the “qualities” of the area must be maintained and so on and so on. Effectively, planning rules prevent development that will detract from the purpose and character of the reserve. The resident’s fears of commercial development are unfounded.
Under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (HGMP) the block was to be included in the adjoining reserve when the Navy vacated. However, the Act also stipulates that this is not operative if the land is or becomes subject to a treaty claim. Therefore, there is nothing illegal about selling the land to Ngati Whatua. As it happens, the Herald reveals that the land was subject to a treaty claim interest when the HGMP passed. Discussions over including the land in future treaty settlements begun in 1995 and were referred to in a 1999 court case that led to the creation of the HGMP. The Waitangi Tribunal also flagged the land in their Tamaki Makaurau report and the Herald referred to the possible sale as early as 2006. So, to be fair, the residents can’t argue that the sale of the block has come out of the blue - the land was earmarked for treaty settlement purposes before the HGMP was even formulated.
Access to the adjoining reserve will not and cannot be restricted. Nagti Whatua have publicly assured the residents that access will not be restricted, even though Ngati Whatua can’t restrict access to the reserve. The block is currently closed to the public and does not, even though it is closed, prevent access to the adjoining reserve. The block is only 3.2ha adjoining not blocking, key words not blocking, access to the 11.9ha reserve – access to the 11.9ha remains unaffected by the deal.
The Treaty Negotiations Minister, the excellent Chris Finlayson, has no obligation to consult the residents of Devonport, contrary to their belief. This is a matter between Maori and the Crown – not Maori and the community. Even if there was an obligation, former North Shore MP Wayne Mapp fulfilled that obligation when he briefed the local board last year. However, according to Dr Mapp, the local board failed to, excuse the awful pun, take it on board.
Finally, the government and iwi have secured approval from the Hauraki Gulf Forum. It was the Gulf Forum that secured the areas marine park designation so surely they are the most appropriate group to consult and seek approval from.
Residents, the local board and the Auckland Council are lodging submissions to the Maori Affairs Select Committee. It's shame to see the Auckland Council, most notably Len Brown, buy into the hysteria and misinformation. Only last year the Mayor delivered a "warm" speech and waiata at the signing of the deed of settlement.
There are a host of misconceptions surrounding the settlement – most driven by the bigoted residents and the filthy local rag. What underlies objections to land transfers, or in this case land purchases, is racism. Many New Zealanders have an unfounded fear that Maori will restrict access, develop the land in ways that will negatively affect the community and so on. I’d challenge anyone who operates under this mind set to point to more than one example where Maori have blocked access to previously public land, urupa (cemeteries) and other waahi tapu (sacred) sites excluded. Restricting access runs contrary to Maori values. After all, there is no such thing as private property in Te Ao Maori.
The racist residents should keep in mind how Maori suffered significant losses. As one example, shortly after the Treaty was signed the Crown bought 3000 acres of what is now downtown Auckland for 281 pounds. Within six months, it had on-sold 90 acres of that land for 24,500 pounds.
(For a level head see this report from Native Affair's Semiramus Holland).