Reigniting the land wars

Ten years before the 2007 police raids on Ruatoki, a threat to reignite civil war was made to Parliament by a group of disaffected, anti-government individuals. It didn't come from Maori radicals but Taranaki farmers. Were any ever arrested for sedition? Were they investigated for unlawful firearms offences? Were they castigated as anti-democratic traitors?


Call to arms . . . against who?

ARMED insurrection by some Taranaki farmers was likely if Parliament did not change its plans to overhaul Maori leasehold land law, MPs were told yesterday.

Morris Hey, chairman of the West Coast Lessees Association, which represents leasehold farmers in Taranaki, delivered the warning to the justice and law reform select committee.

The committee is considering a bill that aims to allow Maoris to regain control over land that was tied up in perpetual leases, against their wishes, last century. The bill proposes phasing out the leases, and in the meantime making the properties subject to market rents.

Mr Hey said the bill would create a new grievance by making farmers bear much of the cost of settling an old one.

Since he became chairman in 1990 he had exerted a moderating influence on farmers angry at the prospect of losing their farms. If the bill was passed, he would resign and would no longer be able to keep extremists in check.

"There is a militant section of our membership who are prepared to take up arms to protect their property rights," he said.

The warning did not appear to be taken too seriously by committee members. Labour list MP Dover Samuels said he was intrigued that some farmers might want to "reignite the Taranaki wars".

Mr Samuels: Who are they going to battle against?

Mr Hey: I don't know.

Mr Samuels: If people are going to take up arms, I'd like to know who they see as the enemy.

Mr Hey: I don't know, I hope this won't happen.

Mr Samuels: People who want to take up arms against an invisible enemy would probably do better to get some counselling.

Association deputy chairman Lyn Williams said leasehold titles were as much a property right as a freehold title, and if Parliament was going to interfere, the very least it should do was offer full compensation. The present proposals would cost the 271 farmers affected an average of $210,000.

Mr Williams said the best solution for farmers and the Maori landowners would be to leave the law much as it was. If the Maoris were compensated they would be well placed to buy out leases as they came on the market. An average of 19 leases were sold each year.


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