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'I've been involved since the beginning': PM hits out at 'inaccurate' Ihumātao claims

Newshub logo Newshub 23/06/2020 Zane Small
Jacinda Ardern et al. looking at the camera: Related video: Pania Newton, spokesperson for the disputed land at Ihumātao, has called on its current owner Fletcher Building to return the land to New Zealanders 'at no cost'. © Newshub Related video: Pania Newton, spokesperson for the disputed land at Ihumātao, has called on its current owner Fletcher Building to return the land to New Zealanders 'at no cost'.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is rejecting "inaccurate" claims that a deal is imminent over the disputed Ihumātao land and that she only recently became involved.

Multiple reports have alleged a decision about the future of the south Auckland land is near with a resolution deadline of June 30, and that the Government is planning to acquire it under the Housing Act at a cost of $30 million.

Fletcher called on to return Ihumātao after collecting $68 million in wage subsidies
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But the Prime Minister on Tuesday morning would not confirm the claims, and said some of the reporting she has seen "around timings and things being brought to Cabinet wasn't accurate".

"When we have an announcement to make we'll obviously make it," she said. "But it is fair to say that it's been an issue that obviously we've worked on for some time and are still seeking to reach a conclusion."

The Prime Minister also rejected claims she only recently became involved in negotiations.

"That's probably where I'd say that hasn't always been accurate. I've been involved since the very beginning, since a year ago when we first saw the occupation," she said.

"Of course, it was an issue important to New Zealand and important to so many within Māoridom. It was something I've been involved in ever since. That never stopped."

The Prime Minister said Kiingitanga have been involved "for quite some time now" in discussions, as well as iwi who have an interest in the land. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson also would not confirm if a deal is imminent.

"Discussions have continued but obviously during the COVID-19 period our focus was elsewhere," he said. "We're still finalising the arrangements and there's obviously a number of parties involved."

Ihumātao is an area of historical significance for Maori near Auckland Airport, where activists have been protesting against Fletcher Building's plans to build almost 500 homes on the land, which was confiscated in 1863 by the Crown.

The occupation ramped up in July 2019 after police served occupiers with an eviction notice.

The Prime Minister negotiated a temporary halt to construction at the site in July 2019 while a solution was sought - but almost a year has passed and nothing has been announced.

Fletcher Building purchased the land at Ihumātao for $19 million in a deal with the local iwi and some believe the company's property rights should be upheld.

National leader Todd Muller said the Government should never have got involved.

"Our position with Ihumātao has been consistent all the way through: this was an issue, from our perspective, between the iwi owners and Fletchers," he said on Tuesday.

He said the Prime Minister "decided that in her wisdom she should insert herself into the issue" and that it only made things more complicated.

"Where does it stop? Are they now going to see that this is the way of engaging with a Labour Government to ensure that they can get a better outcome as they see it? From our perspective, full and final is full and final."

ACT leader David Seymour said the Prime Minister's initial involvement was "naïve" and said she "legitimised unlawful behaviour".

"The protestors at Ihumātao may believe they are on a crusade for justice to secure a better deal for Māori who have the bad end of nearly every social statistic, but they are not going to achieve that by returning New Zealand to a world of property by conquest."

It's not the first time claims have been made about a resolution at Ihumātao.

Former National leader Simon Bridges said in February he had it on "excellent authority" that the Government had struck a deal - but an announcement did not follow. 

Ihumātao protester Pania Newton of Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) claimed in January that a deal over the future of the land was "just around the corner". 

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