By Andrew Hoggard, President Federated Farmers of NZ
Any impartial Kiwi shown a summary of facts on the Ministry of Education’s dealings over the Taihape School Farm would probably call it unfair, and a dog’s breakfast.
Indeed, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier concluded earlier this month that the Ministry’s decisions to dispose of the farm and failure to reassign it for agriculture education use “were unreasonable in all the circumstances”.
While Mr Boshier recommended the Ministry of Education (MoE) apologise to the Taihape Area School community and board, alter its practices to ensure such a situation doesn’t happen again, and commit to work with the school board on options to ensure it had ongoing access to the land for its educational programmes, he didn’t propose the fairest and most logical remedy – that the land be returned to the school and community’s ownership.
And the Government is also not going to tell the MoE to take that step.
Instead of insisting the school farm land be taken out of the landbank for Crown disposal and possible Treaty settlement, Cabinet member Andrew Little told The Country’s Rowena Duncum that was a matter for the MoE.
“As Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations my opinion is that the land has a history that is longer than just the transaction between the school and the community.
“This land and the issues around it go back to the start of the Crown’s presence in Aotearoa New Zealand and its relationship with Māori,” Little said.
(My translation of that is yes, the Crown (MoE) handled this situation really badly, but because the Crown has to deal with other grievances going back to the 1800s, doing the right thing now in the Taihape situation doesn’t seem to matter.)
The saga starts back in 1989 and has been in the headlines a number of times. But in case the reader is unfamiliar with the circumstances, the potted history is this: A Taihape resident and district councillor Eddie Cherry offers to sell to Taihape College 12.7ha of farmland adjacent to the college for half its value, on the basis it be used for agriculture education. The community fundraises the money to pay back the loan the college took out to buy the land. So ultimately no government money is involved in the purchase of the land.
In 2004, an education review sees amalgamation of Taihape College and Taihape Primary to form the Taihape Area School, on the site of the old primary school. In the gazette notice, then Minister of Education Trevor Mallard states “…the Taihape College farm is also to be retained as the property of the new area school.”
As the Chief Ombudsman records in his recent decision on a complaint lodged by the Taihape Areas School Board:
- The MoE had objected to the College board’s plans to put the farm in a private trust for the benefit of the area school;
- The MoE recorded in a 2005 letter it had “…no reason to believe the school farm would not be a community asset for as long as the community wished to see it as part of its education facilities”.
- When the College was dis-established, all of the College’s assets and liabilities automatically transferred to Crown ownership. Despite the clear intention of the parties that the farm would be reassigned to the area school, this never happened.
- In 2014, the MoE told Land Information NZ to proceed with ‘disposal’ of the farm land because the area school could not produce any evidence the farm had transferred to them.
The MoE has subsequently claimed it did not know the area school was still using the farm land for education, a contention the Chief Ombudsman dismisses.
Local iwi in the form of Mokai Patea Waitangi Claims Trust and Te Runanga o Ngati Hauti do not support the withdrawal of the farm from the Treaty settlement landbank.
While the area school has a free lease on the farm for as long as it remains in the landbank, by some accounts it used to derive up to $20,000pa of revenue from production on it – a good boost for the coffers of a decile 4 school. There is no guarantee of this continued use if the land does form part of a Treaty settlement.
The Ministry is paying for upgrades to buildings, fences and water supply on the farmland, which local farmer Andy Law described on The Country as “moronic”.
“Why would any tenant…pour a quarter of a million dollars into a piece of land when they’ve only got a three-year lease – that’s just bad business.”
Federated Farmers strongly believes the Crown must not deal with Treaty claims by disposing of land that is not purchased or owned by them.
Apologies, which to its credit the MoE has now given, are only worthwhile when mistakes are remedied. Feds now calls on the MoE and the government to correct this mess, take the farm land that is still used for agriculture education and vest its ownership in the Taihape Area School as was originally committed to.