Wendy Geus

Ardern’s rhetoric does not match her actions. Inserting herself into a private land dispute whilst calling for unity at Waitangi is farcical. Her actions are causing division, but her naivety propels her to ignore that, and her every comment further muddies the waters. Her politics are not based on principle or reason but emotion and misplaced ideology. 

Her own ministers, Grant Robertson and Kelvin Davis, last year both stated public money would not be used to settle this dispute and reiterated that the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process must not be disrupted. Their virtue signalling leader has moved the goalposts to give herself international publicity, and, cynically, to syphon up Maori votes and to hell with the consequences. 

In a new twist, Ardern in a further instalment of her fantastical Ihumatao tale, proclaims the land now has heritage status. But not only that, in a recent interview with Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking, she frames herself as Fletcher’s saviour, stuck with this heritage land who now must be saved from themselves.

“there is a heritage overlay on this now, so Fletchers are stuck, what do you do?” 

Jacinda Ardern NewstalkZB

That is quite a stretch and requires an ability to ignore a few realities, like the history of the site and unsuccessful litigation in recent years to give it heritage status through the Maori Land Court (2017) and Environment Court (2018). Perhaps she thinks in her naivety that as Minister for Culture, Arts and Heritage she can pull a few strings and voila, conjure up taxpayer money to rescue Fletchers. 

According to the Auckland Council Unitary Plan, there is no heritage overlay on the land. The PM appears to be making stuff up. As Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage perhaps she thinks she is Wonder Woman and she can bend the rules to fast track what is traditionally a very longwinded procedure of notification and a considerable planning process. 

And where is the Legacy media investigating Ardern’s latest preposterous statements and asking her the probing questions? Perhaps they are a little preoccupied at the moment, preparing for an innovative YouTube series ‘Where in the world is Neve?’ to divert attention from National’s social media video attacks on the incompetent government. But I digress.

Ardern has successfully stoked the fires of this contentious subject. Maori Party President Che Wilson has announced he wants to redefine the terms of treaty settlements so that they can dispute privately owned land. The can of worms has been opened.

To further stir the pot Pania Newton, leader of the Ihumatao land protest and founder of SOUL (Save our Unique Landscape) stated on Newstalk ZB on Waitangi Day a taxpayers’ deal has been struck.

Before any public announcements can be made, the PM has to deal with what has been all along the biggest barrier to her aspirations, Deputy PM, Winston Peters.  Ardern must have NZ First’s agreement for any deal to be struck. 

With a more conservative view on matters Maori, he originally stated no public money will be used, the same stance as other ministers. He said back in September “There would have to be one extraordinarily high benchmark for the government to be involved and hitherto we do not see that benchmark,”.  

Although his recent comment to Hosking is more ambiguous. “What is being said right now by a whole range of people is simply false. This is a long-range discussion that will take a long, long time to be completed.”

This issue has many moving parts and the battle of wits behind the scenes can only be imagined. As for deals to get NZ First compliance, this may be a bridge too far for Peters who has been staunch on this issue as a matter of principle. Will he be the hand brake and save Ardern from herself?

Another party which stays firm as a matter of principle is National, which has come out and said the Prime Minister should have kept out of issues involving private land and that she is stirring up division. Many New Zealanders tend to agree.

Heritage New Zealand is due to make a decision on the heritage value of the land at the end of February. We wait with bated breath.

With public sentiment on Ihumatao high, it is, I believe, poised to be Jacinda’s Waterloo come election time.

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