Apr 12, 2012

Racism and Redneckery on the North Shore

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). 


  1. Morgan,

    Would you please educate me here a bit. I've never understood why examples such as the 90 acres -> 24,500 pounds is addressed in the context of a treaty settlement.

    Land confiscations and the like I have always understood as grounds for settlement; but how does the law and this process work where post-treaty Iwi seem to have simply signed up to a bad deal?

  2. I would advise caution in regard to Chris Finlayson's "the Crown has no obligation to consult" position.

    New Zealand is not a feudal society, the Crown - in most people's minds - is simply another word for the State, the Government, or, perhaps, a combination of the two.

    That being the case, it is an institution (or a cluster of institutions) ultimately answerable to the People. Attempting to draw a distinction between the Crown and the People (or, "the Community") is, therefore, extremely risky.

    It suggests that the Crown and the People are in some way antagonists. The last time this was seriously suggested was during the English Civil War - back in the 17th Century - and the Crown did not come out of that dispute in one piece. In fact, it was shorter by a head.

    Even more dangerous, I suspect, is the notion that NZ is some sort of tripartite entity made up of the Crown, the People, and Maori. Try pushing that idea too strongly and I suspect the weakness of both the Crown and Maori will soon be exposed by the much stronger economic, cultural and political ties which continue to bind, and motivate, the People.

    If you define yourself as something outside of the People, to whom will you look for protection from the People? The Crown? Looking back over NZ's history, that doesn't seem to have worked out too well for Maori.

    Or have I missed something?

  3. Hi Baron,

    That example is relevant to the settlement value. It's merely one example of the Crown's deceit and breach of fiduciary duty. Yeah, it's a bad deal, but the deal, in context, probably would have come about through deceit. Essentially, the Crown shat all over Ngati Whatua and, as result, destroyed their mana, livelihood, resources and so on.

    Hi Chris,

    Of course "the Crown" is an extension of the community, or however you want to put that. Yet, there is no obligation binding on the Crown, which represents a number of different communities, to consult the single community in question - the Devonport community. The Crown is widely acknowledged as an ambiguous term in relation to the Treaty. Does it mean the government of the day, royal power and so on.

    Maybe I worded my point poorly. I'm not attempting to portray the Crown, Maori and the Devonport community as antagonists. They are all a part of the settlement. However, the Devonport community doesn't have a prescribed right of consultation. Certainly not a legal right, a moral one, perhaps, depending on perspective. In any event, a treaty interest was slapped on the land well before interest arose in turning it into a reserve.

  4. Morgan

    You've made a pretty comprehensive case, particularly when you point out that there is no history of any Iwi ever blocking access. However...

    If we're talking fifteen years in the future, it is possible that the restrictions on development might be relaxed, either for this specific area or as part of a general relaxation of planning restrictions, which has been the trend both in Auckland and nationally. So it could be argued that the residents are trying to do a bit of future-proofing.

  5. Morgan,

    Thanks. I'll grant that it is naive of me to assume that such a deal was struck between freely consenting equals.

    I find some interesting parallels between this narrow neck debate and the current ground rent negotiations happening for the Beach Road/Mahuhu block. I detect a disturbing narrative in this latter example too - a "greedy maoris running us all out of town". I wouldn't mind your thoughts on that one, should you feel so inclined.

  6. That's a fair point. Especially considering the new Council's desire for more intensive development. However, given community feeling, the general trend against commercial development on or around reserve land and the fact that the area is covered under specialist legislation, I think a relaxation of planning laws is unlikely, all things considered.

  7. @Baron

    Watching the Native Affairs debate, that narrative came through. I believe someone said the land was "too valuable" to go back to Maori. This seems to imply that Maori don't deserve or shouldn't have anything of value, as if it's too good for us. This is archaic thinking and absolutely repugnant. I over-use this word in the post, but it's racist.

    It's all part of the ugly underbelly of racism in NZ. Worst part is, people don't even realise how disgusting those sort of sentiments are. They're taken as given. NZ is, I believe, desensitized to racism against Maori. Case in point, the Paul Holmes column saga. NZders didn't care, they couldn't see the offense in it. Contrast with the Paul Henry "not a real NZder" saga, where NZders were up in arms over Paul Henry's racism against the former GG.

  8. It's ironic that the stereotype has shifted so seamlessly from "bloody Maori bludgers, never doing an honest day's work" to "bloody greedy Maoris, ruining our idyllic recreation areas with their relentless pursuit of profit".

  9. You have to take Ngati Whatua claims with a pinch of salt when you look at the actual occupation of Auckland by Ngati Whatua. They spent the 20 years before 1840 living away up the Waipa river beyond Whatawhata. When Felton Mathew and his wife spent two and a half weeks on two separate occasions cruising up and down the Waitemata and Tamaki harbours in 1840, checking them out as a possible site for New Zealand's capital city, they saw only two small groups (one camping temporarily) and a couple of individuals. There was no one at all on any portion of the North Shore. The whole isthmus was a fern-covered wilderness.

  10. I find it amazing you can call anyone who doesn't think the same as you as a racist. You're the one saying things should be decided on racial boundries. It is you that is the racist.

  11. What is preventing Ngati Whatua from sell the land in future? They could do so despite the wishes of the Devonport community. It is not a question of a public access, or development necessarily but of the symbol of a community as one - i.e. council/state land. Let us assume into the future that access is permitted and the piece of land remains undeveloped, then whoever goes across that land will be crossing private property - the community land is no longer their's. As a citizen of this country - a privilege mind you - my relationship to council and state land is different to private property and why should a community lose its land to a private group?

    1. Nothing, but nothing prevents the government from selling the land either. The HGMP Act does hold that, when the Navy vacates, the land will become part of the adjoining reserve. However, there is nothing stopping the government from legislating against the HGMP.

      In any event, that's not the point. The land is private property. The Crown holds title to the land (including its radical title). The Narrow Neck block is not community land - the Devonport community has no automatic right to it. Its Crown land and the Crown can dispose of it in any manner and to whomever they wish.



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