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Calls to end perpetual leases

7 February, 2023

Interview by Milly Smyth, adapted by Stella Huggins

Listen to the full interview

Photo: Unsplash.

The Green Party is calling for an end to perpetual leases, as part of their wider movement for hoki whenua mai (land back). Announced at Waitangi, the party aims to have the law abolished by this year. 

Put in place 120 years ago, perpetual leases are based on when the government created reserved land for Māori but then took over said lands and leased them to European settlers. 

The government decided who the leaseholders would be, and the conditions of the lease, which includes a ‘peppercorn rental’ (a very low rate). 

Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere told 95bFM's The Wire that what makes it perpetual is that they could renew those leases forever, so the tenant, the leaseholder, chooses to keep them, not the actual Māori land owners who had had no part and no consent to the entire process.

Kerekere said she could not imagine what other businesses must feel about land being leased below market rate.

"They pay a fair rent that has been negotiated with the building owners or the landowners of the place they lease, and yet people have got these sweet deals to pay next to nothing for the land that they are on and do whatever they like without having to talk to the landowners about it.”

This enormous financial advantage for the tenants comes at an immense cost to the actual landowners. 

Māori have the option to buy out the land they own, but at full market value, despite leasing it below market value. 

Kerekere called this “criminal”.

"This doesn’t happen in any other kind of property transaction.” 

The framework is still used today, despite the UK ending it over 100 years ago.

“That’s what makes it so wild- our own colonisers thought it was too far," said Kerekere.

The Māori Reserved Land Act 1955, which currently holds perpetual leases, has been reviewed multiple times. 

Reviewers have urged the government to abolish it on the grounds that it is grossly unfair. 

Kerekere said that the fact it remains has left the Greens “appalled”. 

Approximately 26,000 hectares of land are currently managed under the law, predominantly on the west coast of the South Island. 

Much of the land isn’t necessarily iconic pieces of Aotearoa but is now inaccessible to the local communities, including the owners. 

Kerekere told The Wire about instances in which owners were trespassed off their land and couldn’t even visit it because it was being leased to someone else.

Kerekere said once the law has been abolished, the government agents that control this should focus on helping those Māori landowners resume control of their land.

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air