New localist approach can be more responsive to local needs

Dr Eric Crampton
The Post
10 February, 2024

It might still be a longshot. But an interesting thread ran through this year’s Waitangi speeches and interviews.

Minister Shane Jones argued fuller debate on the meaning of Tino Rangatiratanga is inevitable, saying, “There is a deep, committed view from Pita Tipene and others that article two is a charter for iwi sovereignty. And at some point in time, that debate is going to be flushed out. It’s not a conception that I share. I conceive it to be more localised.”

Prime Minister Luxon said, “We are a party and particularly a government that is actually about making sure there is localism and devolution and that those closest to the problem should solve the problems. …Our fundamental belief is localism and devolution. We do not believe in centralization and control through Wellington.”

It is certainly not for a Canadian economist to weigh in on Treaty interpretation. I have neither the standing nor the understanding.

But one bit of the Canadian experience might be interesting.

Canada’s overall policies regarding its First Nations have been abysmal. But Canada’s First Nations nevertheless have some rights comparable to Canadian municipalities.

A First Nations Band Council can make rules and by-laws that apply on its own land; these powers are listed in Section 81 of the Indian Act.

A Canadian First Nation has authority over the construction and maintenance of watercourses, roads, bridges, and other local works; zoning powers; regulation of construction, repair and use of buildings; power over the construction and use of wells, reservoirs and other water supplies and more.

They can also set taxes on land within the Reserve to fund the Band’s works.

Canada’s Indian Act lays out powers for Bands there that sound, at least to a Canadian economist, like some interpretations of Tino Rangatiratanga.

A First Nations Band has autonomy over the Band’s land.

It isn’t mere parchment. The listed rights have consequences.

When Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, the Squamish Nation, finally had five hectares of their land returned to them near downtown Vancouver, the Band had authority over that land. Not the city.

Vancouver has a housing shortage. And Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw wanted to build.

In Auckland, Section H27 of Auckland’s Unitary Plan sets out the Special Purpose - Māori Purpose Zone. A Marae is prescribed by H27.6.2 to be no more than 10 metres in height; height of buildings in relation to boundaries is prescribed by H27.6.3, and even the location of rainwater tanks is prescribed by H27.6.9.

Even if every one of those sections enjoyed the full agreement of every hapū when the rules were written, if a hapū’s needs changed over time, council would have to agree to any change. And City Council issues the consents.

Meanwhile, the Squamish Nation’s website describing the Sen̓áḵw development explains that “Sen̓áḵw is not part of the City of Vancouver, and is not subject to the City's typical development approval process.”

It appears that, in practice, collaboration with Vancouver City has been required in order to effect interconnection to water networks. But bargaining over such things is a bit different when the Band has real autonomy over its own lands.

Minister Jones said he envisions Tino Rangatiratanga as being more localised.

The Prime Minister wants a far more firmly localist approach to policy and development, along with a devolution agenda. Richard Harman’s Politik newsletter this week also made the connection between the speeches.

New Zealand is among the developed world’s more centralised countries, with a far greater fraction of decisions, spending, and authority resting with central government rather than subnational governments.

Localist approaches can be more responsive to local needs.

In 2015, the New Zealand Initiative put up a report on devolution. We argued that, if a local community saw central government’s regulations or policies as being unfit for local purposes, they should be able to negotiate their own carve-out. If the policy experiment proved successful, others could take it up. If it failed, the experiment would have been relatively small. Bespoke devolution options can make more sense where councils vary widely in capacity.

But nothing in that report needed to imply that local or regional councils are the only voices of local community. Devolution to iwi or hapū could also fit within the framework.

New Zealand has a housing shortage. Council zoning and consenting rules have obviously been part of the problem.

Devolving zoning, consenting, and rating authority over iwi-held land to iwi wishing that authority may be a longshot. And it would take a lot of work.

But it seems worth thinking about.

I have no expertise or experience in arguments around Treaty interpretation.

I just find it very hard to believe that iwi leaders signing onto the Treaty believed their descendants would wind up needing to beg a bureaucrat’s permission to build houses on their own land.

To read the article on The Post website, click here.

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