WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
This is only one instance of stations handed over to Maori management. Just now, bodies corporate are being set up everywhere to take over control from the Maori Trustee. Nor is this movement confined to the East Coast; in the Aotea District the 12,000 acre Morikau block has been released.
The more incorporations become a force in New Zealand business, the more they are likely to lose their early communal character and become, in effect, something like a private company. In the Maori Affairs Act 1953, many of the provisions were tightened to make them conform more closely to modern business principles. A body corporate now has to state the purposes for which it is formed; the Puketapu Incorporation which engages in large-scale timber-milling shows the extent to which incorporations can enter into propositions other than farming. The constitution also has to set out how revenue may be applied. Committee members are to hold office for three years, one-third being elected every year. Accounts have to be audited and lodged with the Maori Land Court for public inspection. Voting is to be by share interests, not heads. No committee member can be proxy for other owners, nor can a person holding proxies be elected. The Maori Land Court acts as registrar of the bodies corporate, holds lists of owners, assets and so forth and fixes the quorum for general meetings.
The trend in all these changes is obvious; it is towards modern business principles and there is no doubt owners as a whole are pleased at the changes. At the same time, the legislators have
Typical view on Morikau Station, Wanganui River, now handed over to the incorporated owners. (Charles Hale Photograph.)
taken care not to make the demands too tough. Many of the incorporations are still small family arrangements and these should not be weighed down by an intolerable burden of office and secretarial work. Private company law would be too tough for them. It looks as if the 1953 legislation has enabled these smaller bodies to continue comfortably while the owners of bigger bodies have all the essential protection they need.
The Maori character of the incorporations, in the meantime, is being preserved. There is a world of difference between an ordinary company based on people who have bought shares and a family or tribe, farming or otherwise using land in common, their ‘shares’ being ancestral land they have inherited. The continued use of the Maori Land Court instead of the Registrar of Companies will tend to keep that difference alive.
Furthermore, by incorporating family land, one ensures that it will always remain in the family. Under the 1953 Act, the Maori Trustee may buy shares worth less than £25, but he is bound to offer these shares first to the body corporate as a whole. If the body corporate does not want to buy them, the Maori Trustee may sell to any owner in the incorporation but the law does not permit him to sell to outsiders.
Thousands of individual Maori farmers have been settled during the last generation and it is to be hoped that wherever possible, Maori land will be used to settle individuals who can make a living out of farming. There are, however, large areas of Maori land where this solution is not so easy and it is here that incorporations have an important part to play in the great struggle to make every acre of Maori land fully productive.