Treaty of Waitangi settlements and the House of Representatives
The passage of treaty settlement legislation through the House of Representatives represents the final stage in the settlement of historical grievances between the Crown and Māori. The House will sit under extended hours on Thursday, 19 July, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to debate the second readings of four treaty settlement bills and an associated bill. The third readings are scheduled to take place the following Thursday, 26 July. The legislation will settle the historical claims of Ngai Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Mākino, and the descendants of the original owners of Maraeroa A and B Blocks in relation to those blocks.
Although many Treaty of Waitangi grievances are long-standing, today’s settlement process has a relatively short history. In 1985 Parliament passed legislation to allow the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate treaty claims about events that had occurred from as early as the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The first settlement of historical claims occurred under legislation passed in the 1990s.
For many iwi, today’s settlement process began years ago with a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. This was followed by years of historical research, the hearing of their grievances by the tribunal, and an intensive period of negotiating a Deed of Settlement to settle their claims against the Crown.
Sometimes the signing of settlement documents takes place in Matangireia (the former Māori Affairs Committee Room in Parliament House), under the gaze of early Māori members of Parliament whose portraits adorn the walls alongside a large reproduction of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Treaty settlement legislation usually contains a Crown apology for historic Crown actions and omissions that were in breach of the treaty, and a package of cultural and commercial redress. In combination, the redress aims to recognise the claimants’ historical grievances, restore the relationship with the Crown, and contribute to their economic development.
The passage of settlement legislation usually enjoys strong support across the House. The conclusion of that passage is a momentous occasion. Members of the claimant communities travel to Wellington to witness and celebrate the historic event.
With many long-standing claims approaching the legislative phase, Parliament needed to consider how its processes might accommodate the forecast increase in the volume of such legislation. Changes made to its Standing Orders in 2011 allow the House to extend its sitting hours. Use of this provision enabled Parliament to progress nine settlement bills in February and March of this year.