E ngā iwi o te motu kia ora huihui tātou katoa.
Let me begin by paying tribute to those who have brought us to this point.
They worked hard for many years often with little progress and often without encouragement.
Every group represented here today will have members who worked hard to achieve justice.
It is important to acknowledge their effort and contribution because we are the ones who have benefited from that hard work.
Completing the historical settlements process is a high priority for me, and it is a high priority for this government.
One of my predecessors, the Rt. Hon Jim Bolger, signed the first large settlement on behalf of the Crown. He and his Government believed the political risk of establishing the historical settlement process was worth taking.
It is our ambition to complete the job that they began.
Breaches of the Treaty by actions of the Crown have caused great harm to Maori. It is time those breaches were dealt with and the wounds they have caused were healed.
Both Maori and the Crown benefit from settlements. Maori gain a settlement package that provides redress for those breaches. While the Crown, in negotiating that settlement and providing redress, has its honour restored. And all New Zealanders benefit from the resulting improvement in the Crown-Maori relationship.
In short, settlements address our past and they invest in our shared future.
I am impatient to see all Maori standing strong, economically independent and fulfilling their true potential. I see the completion of historical Treaty Settlements as an essential part of achieving that. Because only when the wrongs of the past have been addressed, will we all truly move our sights to the promise of the future.
The National-led Government has a goal of 2014 as the date for the completion of just and durable settlements of historical Treaty claims.
By 2014 our target is for Deeds of Settlements to have been completed with all outstanding groups.
We believe all New Zealanders stand to gain from a faster completion of the historical settlements process.
It will build better relationships between Maori and the Crown.
It will benefit the cultural, social and economic development of Maori groups and the wider communities in which they live.
It will allow all New Zealanders to cast our eyes to the next ridgeline we must climb, and the brighter future that lies beyond.
The question today is how will we achieve that goal?
Let me start by acknowledging that there are many aspects of the settlement process that are already working well. We don’t want to interfere with those aspects, and we’re not interested in a fundamental policy re-think.
The previous Government learned that lesson in 2000 when settlement progress stalled for most of that year while settlement policy was reviewed.
Even so, there are certainly areas where experience suggests we can do much better. And I’m confident that with good will on both sides we can make these improvements to the settlement process while continuing to move ahead.
We believe, for example, that we can increase settlement momentum by being more flexible about the way Maori and the Crown work together in the settlement process. We want to move forward together with Maori in this process.
We would also like to encourage more Maori engagement in designing a settlement and determining how it will be achieved.
The Crown is ready to take a more collaborative and open approach to settlements to ensure this can happen.
A settlement is not simply an agreement between two bureaucracies; it is a political compact between Maori and the Crown. It is about creating a new and better relationship. Political leaders on both sides must engage and take risks if mutual goals are to be agreed and achieved.
The Government knows how important these relationships are. That’s why we are lifting the level of political engagement with the settlement process.
It is why I am here today and my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance is also attending. We are here because getting this right is a priority for us.
Together with the Minister for Treaty Negotiations and the Minister of Maori Affairs we form a tight and powerful team dedicated to the task of completing the settlement process. We will also work together on Maori issues across the public sector generally.
Our increased political engagement is also reflected in the re-establishment of a Cabinet Committee devoted to the settlement process.
We are considering the placement of the Office of Treaty Settlements to ensure it has the leverage necessary to continue to lead the settlement process within the public sector.
We have also instructed Government agencies with roles in the settlements process to give those settlements a high priority. We see them as core business for those agencies, not optional add-ons.
Where necessary, we will also provide more resources for the settlement process to reflect the high priority we place on settlements and to allow public sector processes and performance to reflect that priority.
Taken together we believe these ideas for improvement will considerably increase the momentum of the settlement process.
I am grateful too that we come to this process in partnership with the Maori Party. Ours is a mana-enhancing relationship and the ideas I have just discussed reflect many of the ideas and views held by the Maori Party. These include the emphasis on greater speed, the importance of high level political engagement and the use of external facilitators.
After our meeting today I may be asked why we are making settlements a high priority at a time of economic stress.
The answer is a simple one.
We think settlements are good for Maori and good for New Zealand.
We are here today to seek your help in bringing more urgency to the completion of this process and to the opening of a conversation on how the settlement process can evolve to meet our common goals.
I am confident that together we can bring the benefits of settlements to Maori and to the wider New Zealand community much faster than has been the case in the past.
There is hard work ahead of us, but with the determination and commitment shown by so many so far, I am confident we will be able to stride side-by-side on our journey towards 2014.
I will now ask my colleagues, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Minister for Treaty Negotiations and the Minister of Maori Affairs to speak.
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