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Q+A: Mark Solomon interview

Published: 2:02PM Sunday June 06, 2010 Source: Q+A

GUYON A few facts you might not know about the Maori economy. According to Te Puni Kokere, the value of the Maori economy could be as high as 16 billion dollars, perhaps even more, because that figure was produced four years ago. Mark Solomon is with us today, he's the Chair of Ngai Tahu since 1998, and he believes the Maori economy is already strong but is about to become a really major player. For example Ngai Tahu received 170 million dollars in a Treaty settlement nearly 12 years ago now, and that's worth 600 million dollars now, and Ngai Tahu employs more than 500 people. Mark Solomon is also the Chair of the influential Iwi Leadership Group. He's on the Maori Economic Development Taskforce, and he joins me now. Kia ora. Thanks for joining us this morning.
If we start with actually the value of the Maori economy and that estimate that Te Puni Kokere put a number of years ago at 16 odd billion dollars, you believe that's an underestimation. What sort of numbers are we talking about?

MARK SOLOMON
- Ngai Tahu Chair
Well my view is that the Maori economy currently is between 20 and 25 billion. My rationale for saying that I believe the figures from the 2005 report from TPK are wrong, is in that report both Ngai Tahu and Tainui were down as having an asset base of 170. At the time Ngai Tahu was close to 450 and Tainui was just over 400, so it's completely out in its figures.

GUYON
So 25 billion, it's quite a major power house now. Let's look at what you might be looking to do with some of that money. You gave a speech recently where you said that Iwi were keen to perhaps get involved as cornerstone shareholders in state owned assets. Are there any particular ones you're interested in?

MARK
No, we're interested in the whole gamut from electricity production to transmission, to networking, to roads, to hospitals, to schools, to police stations, whatever is available under infrastructure Ngai Tahu and Iwi Katoa want a slice.

GUYON
Have you had discussions with ministers about potentially investing in some of those state owned enterprises?

MARK
Yes we have, in face Ngai Tahu already owns a number of Crown properties. As part of our settlement process we bought for example the Christchurch courts, Christchurch Police Station, Queenstown Police Station, Dunedin Police Station.

GUYON
And John Key's old school I understand.

MARK
No we offered to buy that but it wasn't a goer. We also have recently involved in a 50/50 joint venture with the Christchurch City Council, building the Christchurch City Council's new headquarters of which we are a 50% owner.

GUYON
But state owned assets, have you had specific conversation with ministers about Iwi getting involved in stakes of state owned assets.

MARK
Yes I have, I first raised it with the National Party in July 2008, prior to them coming into power, did the same with the Labour Party and talks have continued since.

GUYON
What are National Party ministers saying? Are they receptive to the idea?

MARK
They're receptive to the idea around infrastructure being offered under public private partnerships, but to this date they're saying that there will be no SOEs on the table unless they get another term.

GUYON
Let's look at your speech around that as well, because you talked about this being the next phase of the Treaty almost. I'll quote you here, you say 'a relationship between the Crown and Iwi as co-investors in national infrastructure is the next step in the Treaty of Waitangi partnership. Are you suggesting there's a Treaty obligation there?

MARK
No what I'm saying is that New Zealand needs to come to terms that Iwi are probably the government's best partner. Number one we are never going to leave this country. Everything we earn will stay in this country. Most of the tribes that are out there doing business now, they heavily invest in their own communities, they create industry, they create income, they create employment. We are in a sense one of the best partners the Crown could have.

GUYON
Let's look at one of the opportunities that is coming up, and that is in the prison sector, because there is joint development in public private partnership there if you like, in contracting out to private providers. Are Iwi looking at being part of any bids to manage any of the private prisons?

MARK
Myself and three other Iwi leaders were invited by TPK to meet with some of the companies that are coming into the company to potentially bid for private prisons. I will be up front, my interest wasn't so much in having an equity share in the prison. I wanted to know how these companies that are offshore companies would deal with the cultural aspects when they came into New Zealand. So we met with GE4S.

GUYON
A Melbourne based company.

MARK
And Serco, yes the other Australian based company. We were blown away in the way that they deal with their prisoners.

GUYON
You were impressed?

MARK
We're completely impressed.

GUYON
So you back this private&

MARK
I like the concept, I like the concept of the way that they deal with the cultural aspects within a prison system. For example one of the maximum security prisons we visited in Australia had a rather large Aboriginal population. The reality the management were Scots, and Australians and English people, and I simply asked them well how do you deal with the cultural needs of the people that you're not connected to, and their answer was quite excellent from my point of view - we don't, we have gone into a relationship with the Aboriginal tribes in the region and they work with us to set the cultural aspects within the prisons system. But what we found when we went through the prison was - I mean I've been to Paremoremo, I've been to Paparoa, I've had a look through the New Zealand prisons. The atmosphere between the two prisons was absolutely outstanding, the difference between the Australian model under the private prisons, to what we have here. For example, every prisoner in the Port Prince prison has three opportunities every day, they're either in a hospital bed, they're at a work station, or they're in education. That's their choices. We went into what's known as the youth wing, 18 to 29 year olds, they run companies within the prison.

GUYON
So it's a lot more innovative than in the New Zealand system?

MARK
Lot more innovative, they're educated in drive, they're upskilling, and the latest thing I heard from GE4S that they were petitioning the Australian government to introduce trade training, and their view is what is the point of having a prisoner behind bars five to 15 years, and at the end of it you chuck him back out on the street with no qualifications, no skills, within a month he's back in prison. You've got to look at how do you address the recidivism.

GUYON
Okay, and you believe that they may have some answers there. If I can just switch this not to some of the obligations that come with the sort of asset base that you're talking about there, and how money is distributed within an Iwi such as yours. You've grown your asset base as we said from 170 to perhaps 600 million. There are what 39,000 members of Ngai Tahu.

MARK
Forty six thousand registered.

GUYON
Okay 46,000 registered members of Ngai Tahu. Are they getting a share of this? How's the money being distributed?

MARK
We have a strict distribution policy. We distribute 4% of our net asset worth per annum. Out of that we run our organisation, we fund our marae and our runanga, we fund all of our initiatives, our education grants. We fund our whairawa motatau which is our matched savings scheme, and we fund our Ngai Tahu Fund. Now our matched savings scheme simply is this. New Zealanders, all New Zealanders have the worst savings record of all western countries, and Maori are at the bottom of that ladder.

GUYON
And a lot of other negative social statistics as well.

MARK
Yes.

GUYON
To what extent now is that your problem, an Iwi's problem? We have MPs going to parliament and talking about closing the gaps and the disparities. Is it a fair question to ask, well is that now your problem to solve?

MARK
Well of course it's partly our problem, but there are issues that have to be addressed. For example, if you are Maori, Pacific Island, you are four and a half times more likely to be incarcerated if you go in front of a judge. If you are a Maori or Pacific Island on average when you are arrested in any Police district of the country, if you are Maori or a Pacific Islander you will face on average six charges as opposed to one charge for a European in any Police district of the country.

GUYON
Why do you believe that is?

MARK
Because I've seen the reports that have come out of the Police.

GUYON
But why do you believe that is?

MARK
Well there are Police reports stated that the only rationale that they could give to the six charges per arrest, was that one of the charges would get them.

GUYON
You gave that figure at the start of this interview that 25 billion dollars perhaps of assets in Maori hands, Maori about 17% of the national population.

MARK
No they don't become 17% until about 2026.

GUYON
Okay, around 15% perhaps at this time. I mean if you're looking at that as a proportion of the economy it's about 30 billion. So we're reaching a stage now really aren't we that proportionally Maori have about the same amount of the economy as they do people. Is it fair to say that Maori don't have economic disadvantage in New Zealand now?

MARK
No, I think Maori do have economic advantages in New Zealand. The biggest problem that they face is that their companies in the main are invisible, and they need to come out into the mainstream and show what they're doing.

GUYON
That's interesting. I mean you've said that and I presume it's part of the reason why you've come on today. I mean why is it that they are invisible, why is it that you have to say look guys we've got some money here, we've got a cheque book, we've got some power we want to use it?

MARK
I think that it's fair to say that within Maori if you go out self promoting it's called whakahihi, you're skiting, and there's an adversity to doing that, but I think if you wish to grow economically you have to show the rest of the community what you're actually doing, and getting out into the community discussing what you're about, what you're doing, is only a positive in my view.

GUYON
Can we look at Treaty settlements now. As we've seen Ngai Tahu has managed its money pretty well. You'd think other Iwi would be keen to get on and settle. When you look at big Iwi like Tuhoe and Ngapuhi, do you say look get on with it guys, I mean who's dragging the chain here, the Crown or those Iwi?

MARK
I think it's the Crown, and I think it's the way that they handle things. If I used a Ngai Tahu example. During the Ngai Tahu claim there was an exercise done by Treasury which took the lands that Ngai Tahu had been dispossessed of or hadn't been awarded in reserves like they should have, and they gave it a 1988 value. Treasury stood before the Waitangi Tribunal and stated that Ngai Tahu's loss was between 12 and 15 billion dollars. We used the same documentation with our external advisors Credit Suisse First Boston, who stood in front of the Tribunal and said we absolutely disagree, the figure of loss to Ngai Tahu is between 18 and 20 billion. First day of negotiations with the Crown, 170 million dollars is it, take it or leave it there is absolutely no discussion on the quantum. Now my point is Ngai Tahu even if I take the lowest figure, Ngai Tahu lost 12 billion dollars worth of assets and accepted as a compensation 170 million. Do the maths. The fact that people in New Zealand argue that the settlements are far too high, if they looked at the reality of what Maori have lost, and then look at the compensation, Maori should be being thanked for the levels of the settlements they accept, not be derided by the rest of the community.

GUYON
Can I, in the final few minutes that we have, look at the Iwi Leadership Group. Some say it's a secretive mysterious group with a lot of influence. I'll quote Phil Goff on this and see whether you can answer his question. Who are they, who do they represent and how transparent is this process?

MARK
Okay, I'll give you the history. It started off as an Iwi Chairs Forum. In the 2005 election you had the National Party calling for the abolition of the Maori seats. We'd just gone through the previous year, the Labour government imposing the Seabed Foreshore Act on Maori, taking away their rights of due process of law etc, and in my view at that time New Zealanders are still split on the issue with the Treaty. My own view is the Crown, like they did with the Seabed Foreshore could extinguish the Treaty at a stroke of the pen by parliament, and I simply ask myself if that was to happen what have Iwi Katoa got left. And for me the answer's quite simple - ourselves. So I made an appointment with the Maori Queen, went through to see her and asked or put to her that I'd like to do a geographic sweep across the country and invite between 30 and 35 Iwi Chairmen to my marae, to start a discussion on a collaborative approach. It seemed pretty simple to me, that every tribe in the country's doing exactly the same thing, they're trying to look after the social needs of their people, the environmental issues that confront them, their economy. That's the genesis.

GUYON
So that's the genesis of it, but now we've got a situation haven't we, where you've got Iwi Leadership Group which is actually negotiating some pretty high powered things on issues like the Seabed and Foreshore.

MARK
No that is not correct.

GUYON
Okay, technically not negotiating but you're talking behind closed doors with ministers on some pretty high powered things which are going to affect a lot of Maori throughout the country, a lot of New Zealanders throughout the country, and are you mandated to do that?

MARK Yes we are, I'll use the Foreshore Seabed as my example. In early August last year I received a phone call from the Attorney General's office asking could I come and meet him. I went through to the meeting to be told that he was ill, that his request was could I bring a representative grouping of Iwi to meet with the government to start discussions on the Foreshore Seabed.

GUYON
And where are we with that now? Have you got something&

MARK
Let me finish my story, you've asked a question. So on the 20th of at Te Hopu Hopu in Hamilton, Tainui hosted an Iwi Chairs Meeting. I put in front of the 42 Iwi there that this was the request I've received from the Attorney General and I received the mandate from 42 Iwi to choose who I wanted, to go and meet with the government and set the framework of how the discussions would go.

GUYON
Okay, we're running out of time, I want to get a position, or update people on where we're at with the Seabed and Foreshore discussions. Have you seen something which you're happy with yet?

MARK
No.

G UYON What are you not happy with still?

MARK
To be blunt there are two areas that Iwi Katoa who met on Friday have again unanimously rejected. One is the issue with the public domain. We refuse to forego all of our rights and put our rights to the foreshore under the public domain, as long as there are still 12 and a half thousand titles sitting there, private titles to the foreshore. If you put them into the public domain, then Iwi will have the discussion about putting all of our rights into the public domain.

GUYON
Number two?

MARK
Issue number two is, we want an absolute assurance from the government that they will not use past breaches of the Treaty to extinguish our rights. Example, in 1859 James Mackey Junior on behalf of the Crown came to my area in Kaikoura to purchase the lands from Ngati Kuri, the Rangatira of the day wanted the lands between the Te Kowhai River and the Conway River set aside as the reserve as they were guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi. The Crown refused because before they came to purchase the lands they had already leased it all out to European settlers. Under the current proposal the families of Kaikoura have absolutely no rights to the foreshore seabed because of that illegal taking of our lands in 1859, which is fully acknowledged in our land claim, but completely forgotten and will be put on the table to extinguish our rights today. We will not accept that.

GUYON
That's pretty much where we're gonna have to leave it, but thank you very much for coming in this morning, Mark Solomon. We really appreciate your time.

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