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The call to end perpetual leases

7 February, 2023

Interview by Milly Smyth, adapted by Stella Huggins

Listen to the full interview

Image from manamedia on Unsplash (stock image of landscape, the pictured land is not under a perpetual lease).

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). 

As Green MP Elizabeth Kerekere told The Wire, “what makes it perpetual, is that they could renew those leases forever, so the tenant, the leaseholder, chose to keep them or not. Not the actual Māori land owners who had had no part and no consent to the entire process.” 

On the point of the land being leased at below market rate, Kerekere says she “can't imagine what other businesses must feel; they pay a fair rent that’s 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’re on- to 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. Furthermore, Māori have an option to buy out the land they own- but at full market value, despite leasing it below market value. As Kerekere points out, this “doesn’t happen in any other kind of property transaction.” She calls this feature of the law “criminal”.

And the framework is still used today, despite the UK ending it over 100 years ago. As Kerekere puts it, “that’s what makes it so wild- our own colonisers thought it was too far.” 

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 was grossly unfair. Kerekere says 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’s being leased to someone else.”

Kerekere says once the law has been abolished, “the government agents that currently… organise all of this, should put their attention to helping those Māori landowners resume control of their land.” 



Public interest journalism funded by New Zealand On Air