Bill reform addresses inequities in Māori land law
Key reforms to the Ture Whenua Māori Bill have passed a second reading and now sit before the Committee of the Whole House. The reforms, tabled in April 2016, seek to address inequities in the current Māori land law and to strengthen protection mechanisms for Māori land, preserving Māori land in Māori ownership and supporting owners’ aspirations for their land.
The reforms include amendments to the Public Works Act 1981, rating of Māori land and the Family Protection Act 1955. The changes to the Public Works Act 1981 will require authorities to have a strong justification to acquire Māori land, and where possible the amount of land taken and the interest in the land should be minimised.
Changes to the offer back process in the Public Works Act will also mean more former Māori land can be returned to Māori ownership if it becomes surplus.
Another key reform relates to rating of Māori land, which has been a long standing issue influencing land tenure and land use. The changes to rating will provide for papakāinga housing on marae to be non-rateable for up to two dwellings. This recognises the role of papakāinga in supporting the operation of the marae on which they are located.
Te Ture Whenua Māori legislation will also restore the Māori Land Court’s jurisdiction under the Family Protection Act 1955 and confer jurisdiction under the Law Reform (Testamentary Promises) Act 1949 when claims relate to estates with interests in Māori freehold land.
The key changes are as follows:
Public Works Act 1981
Acquiring Māori Land for Public Works
- The criteria for acquiring Māori freehold land have been strengthened.
- Acquiring agencies will have to consider the principles of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act if they wish to acquire Māori land:
- Te Tiriti o Waitangi is central to the application of laws affecting Māori land.
- Māori land endures as a taonga tuku iho by virtue of whakapapa.
- Tikanga Māori is central to matters involving Māori land.
- Owners of Māori land have the mana motuhake to decide how their land is used.
- Owners of Māori land have the right to take advantage of opportunities to whakawhanake their land for the benefit of present and future generations of owners, their whānau, and their hapū.
Offer back of surplus land
- Changes to the offer back process in the Public Works Act will mean more former Māori land can be returned to Māori ownership if it becomes surplus.
- It will be easier for successors to be offered land back. Restrictions will be removed that limit when successors are entitled to offer backs.
- The Māori Land Court will be able to be involved in vesting land that is offered back.
- Where land was taken as Māori land, it will be returned as Māori freehold land.
- The Land Valuation Tribunal will be chaired by a Māori Land Court judge to deal with Māori land pricing issues.
- Where land is acquired under the Public Works Act a payment for inconvenience is made to owners of an affected dwelling. Currently there are no provisions that recognise multiple houses or dwellings on whenua Māori. These changes mean that full payment will be made to each separately owned dwelling on Māori freehold land.
Valuation of Māori land
- If Māori land is acquired under the Public Works Act it will no longer be valued lower than other land.
Non-rating of some papakāinga housing
- The bill will provide for two dwellings on a marae to not be rated. These changes will also allow councils to make additional housing associated with a marae non-rateable.
The rates rebate scheme
- The bill will allow separately owned housing on multiply-owned Māori land to be eligible for rates rebates.
Rating Māori land (uniform rates)
- Two or more land blocks used jointly will be able to be treated as a single block for rating. Currently Māori land cannot take advantage of single unit rating to the same extent as other land.
Non-rating of Māori land
- Rates relief for land specifically reserved or covenanted for historical, cultural and scenic reasons.
The Family Protection Act 1955
- The Māori Land Court will have the power to hear and decide claims against an estate with interests in Māori freehold land (e.g. the court can consider claims against an estate based on promises made by the deceased person, where the deceased owned whenua Māori).
Treatment of non-Māori shares in Māori land
- Existing property rights of non-Māori owners will be protected by enabling them to form a whānau trust so that the interests can be kept as a family asset.
- If a whānau trust is not formed, interests in land can be transferred to their children, but not future generations. If the owner who had more than one child died without a will, a whānau trust would automatically be created.
- This approach balances the need for the retention of land as a taonga tuku iho, and the prevention of further fragmentation.
Landlocked land and paper roads
- Landlocked land – in some parts of the country as much as 20% of Māori land is estimated to be land locked. Direct help and greater information for land owners is planned.
- Paper roads – a range of options will be developed for removing unformed (paper) roads that impede Māori land use.
- Public Works Act – work will progress on public works matters that affect both general land and Māori land including:
- the broader application of standards and guidelines;
- assistance to agencies on use of the Māori Land Court to assist offer back of Māori land;
- a review of exemptions to offer back; and
- provision of a notification requirement when use of land changes.
Disposal of Crown shares in Māori freehold land – solutions are being developed for the Crown to no longer hold shares it has acquired in approximately 54 parcels of Māori freehold land.
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