Would the Proposed Reforms Affecting Ahu Whenua Trusts Have Impeded Hapū in the Development of Their Lands? A Ngāti Awa Perspective
This thesis provides a critical examination, from the perspective of three hapū (subtribes) of the Ngāti Awa iwi (tribe) from Te Moananui-a-Toi (the Bay of Plenty), in Te Ika a Maui (the North Island) in Aotearoa (New Zealand), of how changes to important aspects of ahu whenua trusts under Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill 2016 might have impeded hapū in achieving their land utilisation objectives. This form of trust, established under Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993, is the principal vehicle for Māori land management involving hundreds of thousands of hectares valued in billions of dollars on behalf of hundreds of thousands of owners, their whānau (family) and hapū. These trusts are sometimes of more significance to tribal communities than are post settlement governance entities; so expansive are their economic, social, cultural and political footprints.
The radical proposals for change, contained in the now defunct Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill 2016 are examined, as they concerned core elements of the functioning of ahu whenua trusts, given what might have been their potential impacts on the management of Māori land. Those functions include the establishment, review and termination of such trusts and their operation in the normal course of business. The role of trustees and beneficial owners, their rights and obligations and their relationships with each other, are also considered. The overarching aim of this research is to assess key aspects of the proposed changes against the status quo and identify potential risks in the context of how they might operate in practice, should such proposals be revived, wholly or in part, by a future government. More importantly, proposals to amend the current legislation as an alternative approach are also explored with an emphasis on devolving a significant part of the existing transactional jurisdiction of the Māori Land Court from judicial to administrative oversight. In this way, it is intended that an original contribution to the study of Māori land can be made.