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The Ngāti Toa hikoi to parliament, May 8, 2024. (Photo: Ngāti Toa)
The Ngāti Toa hikoi to parliament, May 8, 2024. (Photo: Ngāti Toa)

OPINIONPoliticsMay 15, 2024

Why Ngāti Toa is standing up against the fast-track bill

The Ngāti Toa hikoi to parliament, May 8, 2024. (Photo: Ngāti Toa)
The Ngāti Toa hikoi to parliament, May 8, 2024. (Photo: Ngāti Toa)

We won’t be violent, but we will organise and do everything in our power to prevent further degradation of our taiao, writes Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Toa Rangatira chief executive Helmut Modlik.

In the early 1950s, prime minister Sidney Holland’s National government was under enormous pressure to increase housing supply in New Zealand’s major centres. With the post-war baby boom and rapid urbanisation, the private sector was failing to meet demand. Housing minister Stan Goosman took the unusual step of contracting a company from the other side of the world (Austria) to supply 1000 prefabricated houses for construction in Titahi Bay, Porirua, the home of Ngāti Toa Rangatira since 1824.

The large-scale housing development was approved by cabinet and began in 1953. The face of Porirua and its suburbs was rapidly transformed by the new housing and the associated earthworks, roading and infrastructure. The bush-clad hills that surrounded Porirua harbour were cleared, bulldozed and shaped to enable shops, factories, houses and infrastructure. Meandering streams and waterways from the hills were narrowly piped or channelled into long, straight concrete causeways. As a consequence, the beautiful harbour and connected estuaries, prolific sources of fish and shellfish for centuries, were “reclaimed”, sedimented and polluted until it became a toxic, barren pond.

The cookie-cutter houses were rapidly constructed in high concentration with little regard for healthy design, shared amenities, or the social impacts of co-locating thousands of low socio-economic families. The houses themselves, so hastily specified and built, soon proved to be cold and damp, and led to generations of poor health outcomes among the low-income families they sheltered.

And the coup de grace? A wastewater treatment plant was built on the seashore not far from Titahi Bay beach, a favourite local surfing and family swimming spot and a culturally significant location. As a consequence, for decades locals have endured regular spillage of sewage into our previously pristine waterways. Adding insult to injury, the pumping station getting the wastewater to the seashore was located at the entrance to Takapūwāhia, the kāinga of Ngāti Toa Rangatira.

The author, Helmut Modlik, addresses the crowd during the Ngāti Toa hikoi to parliament, May 8, 2024. (Photo: Ngāti Toa)

These egregious environmental, cultural, social and community harms were endured in our living memory. That’s why Ngāti Toa made a public stand on May 8 by marching silently to parliament, where an aukati rope or “red line” was symbolically laid down and surrounded by plants borne by our tamariki. The silence signified that our children, and the children of Papatūānuku, Tane and Tangaroa, have no voice, leaving us as their kaitiaki or guardians to speak on their behalf. Our aukati symbolised our determination to not endure what our forebears had been forced to suffer.

Our message to ministers Chris Bishop and Tama Potaka, whom we invited, and who had the courage and honour to front and receive it, was that the government’s proposed fast-track legislation has serious flaws that need remedying.

First, the proposed fast-track bill overrides existing environmental protection legislation, consultation and approval processes. Activities currently prohibited under the Resource Management Act are specifically made eligible. In other words, development is prioritised no matter what apparent environmental harm may arise. This is hard to contemplate, let alone accept.

Second, the idea that laymen hired and fired every three years (a.k.a. government ministers) could make infrastructure decisions lasting a hundred years is foolish in the extreme and risks corruption. On what logical basis could ministers override the recommendations of an expert panel (as provided for in the legislation) that decides a project carries intergenerational environmental risk, without right of appeal or judicial review? Only parochial political or personal financial self- interest.

Third, the Ngāti Toa Rangatira Claims Settlement Act 2014 states: “Porirua harbour, an important food resource for Ngāti Toa Rangatira, was adversely affected by pollution and sewage generated by urban development. This has had a severe impact on the ability of Ngāti Toa Rangatira to use and protect traditional resources.”

Ngāti Toa protestors at parliament. (Photo: Ngāti Toa)

The act concludes with these words: “With this apology and settlement, the Crown seeks to atone for these wrongs, restore its tarnished honour and begin the process of healing. The Crown hopes that this apology and settlement will mark the beginning of a new, positive, and enduring relationship with Ngāti Toa Rangatira founded on mutual trust and co-operation and respect for Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles.

The fast-track bill explicitly removes from the approvals process legislation that currently protects the environment and explicitly references “Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its principles”. In other words, it ignores precisely what the Crown promised Ngāti Toa it would do just 10 years ago to “restore its tarnished honour”.

The irony is that none of this is necessary. Ngāti Toa is committed to investing in healing and transforming our communities. We’re committed to investing in rebuilding and renewing. We too are frustrated things takes so long and cost so much. We too want quicker planning and consenting, more affordable homes and infrastructure. But we also want clean, healthy taiao, waterways, and kaimoana; we want it all.

We thought we’d all learnt that ravaging our whenua and resources is unsustainable and harmful to lives and livelihoods; that we can benefit from both technology and ecology, that it’s not an either-or situation. Our hikoi to parliament was to remind the government of these things and to say to them no, not again, not here.

We finished our hikoi with a message to developers, constructors and financiers who may seek fast-track approval for a project in our rohe with serious environmental impacts: Ngāti Toa will not allow it to proceed. We will organise and do everything in our power to prevent further degrading of our taiao. We won’t be violent – but we will not allow owners and executives of such businesses to leave the leafy suburbs and sea-view communities where they doubtless live to come to our home, where we live, and do that to us again.

Everyone who ever came to these beautiful islands, recently or in generations past, did so in search of a better life. Ngāti Toa has told this government, we want it still; we want it all. Unchecked development as proposed – Ka mate, Ka mate! Balanced mana enhancing development – Ka ora, Ka ora! Whiti te Rā!

Keep going!