MAORI RESERVED LANDS ACT
Stopping the further splitting-up of Maori land interests was one of the purposes of the Maori Reserved Lands Act, passed by Parliament last year.
Mainly, this Act is framed to consolidate the law relating to Maori Reserves, West Coast Settlement Reserves and Maori Township and make it more easily accessible. Previously, this was scattered through many statutes, extending as far back as 1880, making it difficult to ascertain what the law was.
In addition, the opportunity was taken to make provision for stopping the further fragmentation of the interests of the beneficial owners of these lands, and, without infringing the existing rights of lessees, to provide for a standard system of leasing. The Act came into force on the 1st of January, 1956.
The lands affected by the Act comprise a total area of about 96,000 acres, which fall into four classes:
The Maori Reserves proper—about 22,700 acres.
The West Coast Settlement Reserves in Taranaki—about 71,600 acres.
The Maori Townships—about 200 acres.
Certain other areas which have taken on the character of Maori Reserves—about 1,500 acres.
The annual income from the reserved lands is in the vicinity of £75,000. The number of beneficiaries is about 12,000.
The Maori Reserves proper, which are situated mainly in the South Island, but of which there are some in Wellington, Palmerston North and Auckland, are the reserves which were made for the Maoris in the early days of the colony by the New Zealand Company or by the Crown from lands purchased. For example, they comprise the Wellington, Nelson and Motueka “Tenths,” being the tenth part of the land reserved for the Maoris by the New Zealand Company. And in the Westland district, there are the reserves made from the Arahura purchase by the Crown.
The West Coast Settlement Reserves are the reserves in Taranaki which were returned to the Maoris following the confiscations which resulted from the Maori wars.
The Maori Townships comprise areas which, mainly at the opening of the present century, were carved out of tracts of Maori land as being likely centres of population. For example, there are Maori Townships at Tokaanu, Te Kuiti, Otorohanga and elsewhere.
In various parts of the country, reserves have been created for Maoris for particular purposes, and these, because of the system of administration imposed on them, have taken on the character of Maori Reserves. An example is the Poukawa reserve, which was exempted from one of the Crown purchases in Hawkes Bay. It was a stipulation by the chief, Hapuku, that the freehold of the exempted area should be preserved for his people. But so that the land should not lie idle, the area was vested in the Public Trustee and, latterly, the Maori Trustee, who was authorised to grant leases.
The management of the reserved lands has a long and at times turbulent history. They are all now vested in the Maori Trustee as the legal owner, and he is responsible for their due administration in accordance with the trusts affecting them. The administration largely consists of arranging renewals of subsisting leases, the collection of the rent, the enforcement of the covenants of the leases, and the payment of the moneys in accordance with the trusts. The trust usually is to distribute the rents to specified beneficiaries for the ascertained shares, but there are trusts for the application of moneys for the collective benefit of groups of people.
SPLITTING OF INTERESTS
The same great obstacle in the way of the administration of Maori land generally has obtruded itself in the case of the reserved lands—that is, the breaking down of the beneficial in-
terests into shares which have become fantastically small. About 8,000 payments are made in respect of the beneficiaries over a six months' period in the Wellington Office alone, distributed as follows:
|Amounts over £10||1.5%|
|Amounts between £1 and £10||11.2%|
|Amounts between 10/- and £1||7.1%|
|Amounts under 10/-||80.2%|
A very large number of the beneficiaries receive amounts which are not worth collecting. Many of them no longer live in the district in which the particular reserve is situated. They are losing or have lost their knowledge of the reserves and the purpose of them. It is probably true to say that the authors of the reserves could not possibly have foreseen the migration of the Maoris to other districts and, particularly, to the cities or the loss of the original significance of the reserves as a result of the migration and the great increase in the Maori population.
Part II of the Act contains proposals designed to put the brake on the process of fragmentation. These proposals, while similar in some respects to the provision made in the Maori Affairs Act, 1953, for dealing with uneconomic interests in ordinary Maori land, have special features due to the different nature of the property concerned. Unlike the case of ordinary Maori land the beneficiaries of the reserve lands have practically no real chance of ever obtaining possession of the land itself which is leased on a perpetually renewable basis. Their interests in practice amount to no more than an interest in income. There is also to be considered the origin of the reserves which as said above were really intended originally to be a perpetual trust for people living in a district.
Hence, the new provisions proceed on the basis that there should be no traffic as between beneficiaries in these interests, instead as interests become uneconomic (i.e., fall below a certain level of income defined) they should cease to be allocated to individuals and instead fall into a general pool of which the income flows for use generally for Maori purposes and organisations in the district concerned.
The scheme of the procedure is as follows:
On the death of an owner in the reserved lands, his interest does not pass to his executor or administrator. The court ascertains who his successors are, and if the interest which any of the successors would take is not an economic interest, the interest is to be vested in the Maori Trustee, subject to the Maori Trustee's consent and to his paying for it, unless the amount is smaller than five shillings. An uneconomic interest is defined as an interest which does not exceed £25 in value, as ascertained in the following way:(a) If the land is leased, the annual net income attributed to the interest is capitalised at 4%.
(b) If the land is not leased, the part of the value attributed to the interest by an apportionment of the capital value of land as it appears from the valuation roll.
The Act also contains a provision which enables the Maori Trustee to apply to the court to vest uneconomic interests in him. This will afford an opportunity for clearing up titles without waiting for the demise of the owners. There is also provision which permits the Maori Trustee to purchase interest from equitable owners by agreement.
BENEFIT TO MAORI PEOPLE
From the income which the Maori Trustee receives in respect of the interests acquired by him, he recovers the amount laid out from his Conversion Fund as purchase money, plus one-quarter of the amount so laid out. As he will be receiving his money back over a fairly long period, he is entitled to something by way of interest on his investment—hence the recovery of a sum equal to a quarter of the purchase price. When the Maori Trustee has recouped the Conversion Fund, the income from the purchased interests is to be applied for purposes of general benefit to the Maoris, the machinery of section 30 of the Maori Trustee Act, 1953, relating to the disposition of unclaimed moneys being invoked for the purpose.
The way this works briefly is that representative committees set up in each district draw from time to time a scheme for the disposal of unclaimed moneys in the district, which after approval, enables the money to be paid out to Maori organisations in the district, or for specific Maori purposes such as aiding education, marae improvements, social centres and the like. In this way the ultimate position will be that the income from these lands will be a fund distributed for Maori causes each year.
Leases of the Maori Reserves or Township Lands having been granted at different times and under different statutory provisions there are many variations in them, particularly as to the method of assessing rent on renewals.
The Act prescribes two standard forms of lease, one for farm land and one for land in towns or cities. Lessees may be given an offer to surrender their existing leases and take a lease in the appropriate standard form. Similarly when a lease falls due for renewal the same offer may be made. It is open to the lessee to accept or decline this offer at his discretion since he may prefer to retain his rights under the existing lease. The standard form of lease prescribed, provides for assessment of rent on the basis of government valuation.