Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell will discuss the draft Maori land reform bill, Te Ture Whenua Maori, with Far North Maori land owners and trustees at Te Ahu in Kaitaia from 11am-1pm on Thursday.
The meeting was arranged by Te Puni Kokiri after Far North Mayor John Carter and Ngakahu Ahu Whenua Trust interim management committee member Des Mahoney told Mr Flavell how information hui about the land reforms at Kaikohe and Whangarei last month were too far away to be attended by people living on the the Aupouri Peninsula.
The minister had been sympathetic when Mr Mahoney explained that people from Te Hapua faced a two-hour drive just to reach Kaitaia, and a return trip to attend the hui in Kaikohe could have taken them more than six hours.
When TPK officials asked Mr Mahoney if he had a marae of choice for the proposed Kaitaia meeting he had made it very clear the Mayor had offered Te Ahu, "and that's where the hui should be held as it is a neutral venue".
Mr Carter, who met Mr Flavell and some other mayors in Wellington last week to discuss aspects of the draft reform bill affecting local authorities, was grateful the minister had arranged for discussion in Kaitaia, as the Far North had a significantly high proportion of land in Maori ownership.
Key changes in the bill would create a new ratings framework, giving councils the power to remove rates arrears on unoccupied and unused Maori freehold land once the owners demonstrated a commitment to developing it. That would effectively create a clean slate for land owners who were keen to develop their whenua but were lumbered with historic debt.
The reforms also called for non-rating of Maori land that was unoccupied and unused, and the councils would also remove the two-hectare limit for non-rating of marae and urupa, and not rate whenua subject to Nga Whenua Rahui covenants.
The reforms would also create a new framework for the valuation of Maori land for rating purposes, to take into account unique circumstances such as multiple ownership, issues of sale, sites of significance and social, cultural and general heritage connections to the land.
The bill is scheduled to be introduced to Parliament early this year, then referred to a select committee for consideration. The committee will seek submissions from the public, which will give land owners another opportunity to have their say.
Meanwhile, Green Party Maori Development spokesperson Marama Davidson last week said the bill shouldn't be introduced to Parliament until concerns brought up by the Waitangi Tribunal and wider community were allayed.
"This bill will be replacing the Maori Land Court process, but Maori have not had an opportunity to see what it would be replaced with. There is not enough detail in the bill for Maori to be able to give a properly informed opinion, or consent to this bill," she said.
"Before it brings this bill to the House, the Government needs to identify the real barriers to Maori land use, and ensure broad support from Maori."