August 2014 Māori Law Review

Editorial – Judge Craig Coxhead – the Waitangi Tribunal – strategic direction for a busy future

The Waitangi Tribunal is always busy. Currently it is busier than usual as Judge Craig Coxhead explains.

Download the Waitangi Tribunal's Strategic Direction 2014-2025 (16.1MB PDF) here.

In the last year the Tribunal has granted urgency to six claims, with another carried over from the previous year.  Of these, one has been heard and reported on (Te Aroha Maunga), one has been partly heard and reported on (National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources), one has been heard and an interim report issued (MV Rena and Motiti Island claims), one has completed the hearing phase and a report is being prepared (Māori Wardens), one is to be heard in mid-2015 (Electoral Amendment) and others have been deferred and are not currently active (Ngāti Ruapani and Legal Aid).

While dealing with urgent claims the Tribunal continues to progress and hear historical claims.  There are eight districts either in hearing or preparation for hearing.  Those in the hearing phase of the inquiry process are the five districts that make up the Northland regional inquiry of Te Paparahi o Te Raki and the two districts of Te Rohe Pōtae and Porirua ki Manawatū.

There are a number of reports in the writing phase.  There are also many claims still to be heard.

It is no surprise that the Tribunal is busy given, first, the cut off legislation and flood of claims following the 1 September 2008 deadline for the filing of new historical claims that resulted in a last-minute flood that more than doubled the number of claims submitted to the Tribunal; and second, increased Treaty settlements activity.

Planning for the future

While dealing with a busy present, the Tribunal is also planning for a busy future.  It has recently released its intended strategic direction for 2014-2025.

Strategic thinking is not new in planning the Tribunal’s business programme. The Chairperson of the Tribunal, Chief Judge Wilson Isaac touched on the underlying issues when he addressed a Law Society intensive seminar on the topic of the “Future of the Waitangi Tribunal”.  His presentation outlined some of his thoughts on where the Tribunal is going.  Further, the recent Tribunal publication “Te Manutukutuku” noted:

 The Tribunal is actively preparing for a future of growing diversity, and to this end it has been developing a long-term strategic plan to outline its priorities and direction for the coming years.  The last district inquires are currently in progress and will take some years to complete.  Other historical claims will also require attention as the Crown and Maori move to complete historical Treaty settlements.  The strategic plan will outline the future work programme when its main focus moves towards contemporary and kaupapa (non-land based) claims.

Waitangi Tribunal

The Tribunal has inquired into many historical claims and reported on claims covering more than 80 per cent of New Zealand’s landmass.  However, more than a third of registered claims still need to be dealt with.  These include outstanding historical claims, kaupapa (issue-focussed) claims and contemporary claims.

While the Tribunal has been, in the main, focussed since 1985 on historical inquiries it has not forgotten the contemporary grievances, many of which now stretch back more than 20 years. A number have already been included in district Tribunal inquiries. Others have been heard in thematic inquiries on issues concerning, for example, Māori culture and identity (Wai 262) and kōhanga reo.

Looking forward to 2025

Since its establishment in 1975 the Tribunal has experienced many and varied changes.  Changes in circumstances, along with claimant and the Crown demands, have required change. The changes have sometimes been dramatic, as with the 1985 expansion of Tribunal jurisdiction to consider historical claims back to 1840.  At other times changes have been more gradual, as the Tribunal adjusts its inquiry processes to ensure that it can hear and report on the claims before it in the most meaningful, relevant and efficient manner.

While not all claimants will opt for a Tribunal inquiry, many will, and therefore many claims have yet to be fully heard.  With all these claims still to be dealt with the release of the Tribunal’s strategy shows how the Tribunal intends to schedule the hearing of these claims and balance the competing needs, demands and priorities of both claimants and the Crown.

The strategy sets out how the Tribunal intends to deal with claims within both established forms of inquiry, such as the district inquiries under way, along with new pathways to hear the remaining historical claims, kaupapa claims, and contemporary claims.

The challenge for the Tribunal will be to deliver, for those who wish to be heard, a high-quality inquiry process and reports in time to add real value to the integrity of the Māori-Crown partnership.

There will be change.  With the changing environment in which Treaty of Waitangi issues are addressed, the Tribunal obviously needs to respond to claimant and Crown desires, as the Tribunal has done in the past.

What is clear is, as the Chairperson of the Tribunal has stated, that the Tribunal remains committed to its core objective: to advance a Treaty-based Crown-Māori relationship and thereby sustain the political, social and cultural fabric of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The Tribunal’s strategic direction to 2025, and associated implementation planning, will be of assistance to all those who engage with the Tribunal and its work in the changing and vibrant Treaty sector.