Friday, November 30, 2012

Shafted by their own council

So this is what it has come to.

The Kapiti Coast District Council, according to today's Dominion Post, has identified 40 "sacred" Maori sites on which owners will not be allowed to subdivide, alter existing buildings, or disturb the land.

As I write this, I'm fervently hoping the citizens of the Kapiti Coast will be laying siege to the council offices and that the mayor, the councillors and the council functionaries (who I suspect are the real villains of the piece, because that's usually the case) will be cowering in terror in a basement panic room.

If not, they certainly should be. But it won't happen, because the populace has become so desensitised to this type of attack on their rights that they have become utterly supine.

According to the Dominion Post, letters were sent to affected Kapiti property owners last month giving them four weeks' notice that the historic status of the "wahi tapu" sites would be included in the new district plan, which takes effect this week.

Landowners appear to have been taken by surprise. One said the letter came out of the blue.

If I correctly interpret  a statement by Waikane Community Board chairman Michael Scott, details of sites deemed to be tapu have already been entered on land information memorandums (LIMs) and titles. In other words, property values have potentially been undermined even before owners have had a chance to react.

Affected owners will be able to make submissions on the proposal until March 1, but it looks suspiciously like a fait accompli. After all, it's far easier for a council to defend something that has already been imposed than to convince people beforehand that it's fair, reasonable and necessary. The council bureaucrats will probably count on a high proportion of owners, weakened and demoralised by decades of increasingly brazen encroachments on their rights and freedoms, rolling over and passively accepting it. And they will probably be right.

Now, how did this come about? Well, from what the Dominion Post tells us, the council commissioned three local iwi to look at possible sites of historic interest to them on the Kapiti Coast.

They came up with a list of 400, which has been whittled down to 40 for inclusion in the proposed district plan.

What evidence was required to establish the validity of the iwis' claims? That's not clear, but I'm hoping someone on the Kapiti Coast will have the gumption to file an offical information request demanding to know.

One property owner is quoted as saying Maori researchers believed a pa site and an urupa (burial ground) may have been on his land. But the property had been in European ownership and farmed since 1830, and previous owners had never mentioned a pa site.

The owner is now prevented from carrying out earthworks, modifying existing buildings or subdividing. Just like that.

According to Michael Scott, who is a lawyer, the restrictions mean owners will not be able to dig a hole and put a swimming pool in. A farmer will be allowed to graze stock, but not disturb the land surface.

Does this mean, I wonder, that a property owner will have to pay koha to the local iwi for the right to plant lettuce and tomato plants? I'm not being entirely flippant, because given the now-routine ritual subservience to Maori claims, which can delay a highway construction project because of concerns that a taniwha might be disturbed, anything is possible.

The most obvious objection to what the KCDC is proposing is that it's a flagrant violation of  property rights - in other words, the right to determine what to do with one's own assets and possessions. Tragically, this fundamental right has already been so circumscribed that most people have given up trying to defend it. (It says a lot about the architects of our Bill of Rights Act, passed by a Labour government in 1990, that  reference to property rights was omitted.) 

But even more alarming is the casual acceptance by the Kapiti council that certain people who define themselves as Maori should have the power to determine what other people do with their land - in other words, the conferring of special privilege on the basis of race. Twenty years ago such a proposition would have rightly been regarded as outrageous. But this is the logical and inevitable outcome of a pernicious policy of biculturalism under which people's rights and privileges are determined by the extent to which they can claim, however tenuously, Maori ancestry. 

We don't know who these iwi representatives are or on what basis they determined that certain pieces of land are sacred and inviolable. They are not elected and not accountable for the consequences of anything they recommend. It's power without responsibility, the antithesis of democracy.

The real villains, however, are not the local iwi (after all, it's human nature to avail oneself of any special treatment offered) but those in the Kapiti council who have orchestrated this abuse of power. Elected, paid and entrusted by the hapless citizens of Kapiti to ensure their interests are protected and their rights respected, they choose instead to shaft them.

And the worst part about it is that Kapiti represents, in microcosm, what is happening all over New Zealand on a grand scale. 


Jigsaw said...

I couldn't agree more but what to do about it? As a former teacher I can say that the education system has been busy pushing such popaganda for the last-well at least 30 years. The upcoming constitutional review is not even on most people's radar yet and may well be a done deal before the populace is even aware of it.

Nicola Young said...

When my father was Minister of Works (in the 1970s), a role that encompassed chairing the Roads Board, he was asked to make a decision about a new road in Ngawha, which was going to run across an ancient Maori site - marked by a cairn of stones. Much protesting by local Maori. Amazingly, my father grew up in Ngawha (his parents ran its Native School in the 1910s/20s) and he remembered helping clear the field of stones which were piled into the so-called historic Maori cairn. The road went ahead!