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Op-Ed: Why apologise only to legislate away our rights? - Nicola MacDonald, Chief Executive

Fast tracked consents could quickly undo what has taken decades to achieve but we don’t have to sacrifice environmental preservation for progress, we can have both writes Manuhiri Kaitiaki Charitable Trust Chief Executive and Environmental Hero of the Year Te Toa Taiao o te Tau winner, Nicola MacDonald.

“Pristine” is a word often used to describe Te Moananui-ā-Toi (the Hauraki Gulf). Renowned for its natural environment, white sandy beaches and “sparkling” blue waters dotted with “emerald” islands are marketed to tourists looking to explore a postcard picture destination. As mana whenua, Ngāti Manuhiri know first hand the beauty of te taiao and how privileged we are to live with it. But we also know how our homes are more susceptible to severe weather effects as our natural sand barriers are destroyed to make materials like concrete, the seabirds are starving due to depleted food sources, our kaimoana is smaller in size, unsuitable to eat, and harder to find as fisheries continue to take from our waters.

For us at Manuhiri Kaitiaki Charitable Trust (the operational arm of Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust), we take the responsibility of kaitiakitanga seriously and are working hard to ensure Te Moananui-ā-Toi is not just a beautiful place for us all to appreciate today but stays that way for generations to come. We’ve put our own settlement returns into boats to patrol the moana and help improve education around overfishing, into work to curb the invasive seaweed species caulerpa from spreading, and into court proceedings to stop destructive business practices from doing irreparable damage to our beaches. We have invested significant resources into this environmental jewel, and yet much of this is put at risk by the Fast Track Approvals Bill which would say ‘yes’ to pillaging by organisations primarily concerned with profits, when the courts and mana whenua have previously said ‘no’. 

A familiar counter regularly trotted out is that mana whenua across the motu get in the way of the progress of our nation; that the obligation to engage with iwi and hapū Māori is problematic. Yet you don’t have to look back far in our nation’s history to understand why the obligation to engage with mana whenua exists.

Take Ngāti Manuhiri: it was the Crown’s acquisition of land rich in timber resources in 1841 that left the people of Manuhiri virtually landless. Ngāti Manuhiri were not consulted about the sale and the Crown took no steps to investigate customary rights. By the time the Crown recognised Ngāti Manuhiri interest in these lands in 1850, settlers had already moved into the area and Ngāti Manuhiri were forced to accept compensation and inadequate reserves, rather than overturning the sale of the land itself.

But it did not stop there. Further Crown purchases at low prices were made from 1853 that overlapped with Mahurangi and Ōmaha lands as well as the acquisition of Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier Island), which resulted in the eviction of Ngāti Manuhiri who lived there.

In the 1840s Ngāti Manuhiri held customary interests through a tribal estate of approximately 250,000 acres. By the time our settlement was signed in 2011 we held title to around 1,300 acres: a 99.48% loss of land.

There is little room to conclude anything other than that the course of action taken by the Crown over two centuries has hindered the social, economic, and cultural development of our people. Our settlement legislation confirms as much:

The Crown unreservedly apologises for not having honoured its obligations to Ngāti Manuhiri under the Treaty of Waitangi.

This kind of apology is not unique to Ngāti Manuhiri. Every iwi and hapū that has settlement legislation—absolutely every single one—includes an admission from the Crown that it has encroached upon, and sometimes completely extinguished the rights of Māori. 

Turning back to our apology, the Crown says it “profoundly regrets its breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles” and “unreservedly apologises for not having honoured its obligations to Ngāti Manuhiri'' and is seeking to build a new relationship with Ngāti Manuhiri.  Yet twelve years on from the passing of our settlement legislation, we are facing a potential return to one-sided decision-making with the passage of the Fast Track Approvals Bill.

I can’t help but stop and reflect upon the integrity of the Crown’s apology.

During the first reading of our Settlement Bill one Labour Party member stood from the opposition benches, and lamented that the focus of settlements should not be on “the finicky detail” saying that “there is always scope for dealing with community concerns and community issues as the settlement is fully implemented.” That member was Hon. Shane Jones, who—all things considered—may soon be a recipient of perhaps the most unrestrained powers our Parliament has ever enabled, thanks to the Fast Track Approvals Bill

To that Minister I say that now is one of those times: where the Crown must hear our concerns. It is not unreasonable for iwi and hapū Māori to ask whether we are observing the potential for Crown-enabled pillaging of te taiao to unfurl across the motu—once again.

Let me be clear: Ngāti Manuhiri is not opposed to development. We have our own projects that could indeed be advanced through the Fast Track Approvals Bill. What we are opposed to is development that can manifest in a way that does not balance the duty we collectively have to look after our natural environment for future generations. A duty that sees development activities balance profit with people, and the needs of people be balanced with the needs of our planet.

Take the pristine coast of Pākiri in our rohe. For more than 80 years sand miners have been actively extracting sand from the seabed to support concrete production. The extraction of minerals and resources from the sea floor—whether through dredging sand or other means—has seen the deterioration of the health of the kaimoana available in the rohe. These activities are also a source of considerable erosion along the shores of Pākiri Beach, which exposes those who live along the coastline to harsher weather events and the effects of climate change.

In 2022 Ngāti Manuhiri opposed an application for resource consent on the basis that the exploitation of our resources for the development and expansion of Tāmaki Makaurau has negatively affected taonga and the customary rights and practices of all mana whenua within our ancestral rohe. Auckland Council denied the resource consent. The decision was appealed, and we opposed it once again and it was also refused.

While the appeal was ongoing, tell tale signs of public relations tactics were utilised in an effort to share a one sided version of events. In February 2024, the Aggregate & Quarry Association of NZ (AQA) issued a press release saying the organisation had written to “the previous Government in March last year warning of a looming shortage of sand and seeking solutions” and that “delays in renewing resource consents for sand extracted off the coast north of Auckland” were causing the sand shortage.

In that same release, AQA admitted that “manufactured sand may well be a key to future supply” yet spoke only to the need for the Government to intervene, rather than impress upon their own industry that they should improve their operations and develop improved modes of sustainable extraction practices. AQA also said it was seeking “intervention from Ministers” – the same kind of intervention the Fast Track Approvals Bill affords.

On Monday 10 June AQA presented to the Environment Committee. In that presentation the CEO Wayne Scott said "we are not seeking any different outcomes than those currently achieved using sound practices within the RMA process.” He also said that "what quarries need are outcomes with more certainty and faster timeframes than those that could take many years to obtain consent.”

I am certain the Environment Committee is wise enough to understand that decisions made decades ago will often not stand up to scrutiny today. As society evolves, so does our understanding of environmental impact, and the uncomfortable reality we all must face is that the shape and nature of historical resource consents do not reflect what we know today, and therefore the actions we must take to protect our whenua, we must take for all New Zealanders.

I don’t think it is unfair to consider whether the sustained efforts by the AQA to utilise fear based rhetoric speaks to operators in an industry who have come to expect unfettered access to extract natural resources, rather than an obligation to balance commercial returns with modern day environmental realities.

Furthermore, the contextualisation of resource consents being delayed is of the utmost concern to us, because it suggests that—despite our legitimate interests in the whenua—our concerns are merely “delays” to these organisations.

While the Government has conceded they are willing to consider “constructive changes” on the Bill, it has remained determined to “cut through the thicket of red tape and green tape that’s holding this country back.”

It is well established that te Tiriti entitles iwi and hapū Māori across the motu to their own unique and enduring relationship with the Crown. Yet the Bill—in its current form—does not afford us the opportunity to engage on projects that will affect us, at all stages. So I simply ask the Crown this: are well-resourced, legacy interests your te Tiriti partners? Or are iwi and hapū Māori?

I have no other option than to assume that the Crown was genuine when it’s apology included a desire to “build a new relationship with Ngāti Manuhiri based on the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles,” so I seek just one thing from the Government: when ensuring a fast track for development do not fast-track the abdication of duty the Crown owes to iwi and hapū Māori.

Nicola MacDonald (Ngāti Wai, Te Rarawa, Taranaki) is Chief Executive of Manuhiri Kaitiaki Charitable Trust (the operational arm of Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust), winner of Kiwibank Environmental Hero of the Year 2024 and Co-Chair of Hauraki Gulf Forum.


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