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Hit & Run
There will be no public inquiry into Operation Burnham.
That is the latest official position from Prime Minister Bill English, after receiving a briefing from New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) officials last week.
Calls for an investigation have been mounting since allegations of civilian deaths in two New Zealand-led raids in Afghanistan were published by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in Hit & Run.
Mr English said he made the decision after reviewing evidence presented by the NZDF, including video footage of the 2010 raid. He also said he was satisfied that those killed in the incident were insurgents, despite the NZDF admitting that they did not know the names of the deceased.
In response, Hager said that the government had bowed to military pressure. He also questioned the independence of NZDF Chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating, who English had trusted to provide evidence on the raids.
Labour’s Andrew Little also renewed his calls for an investigation, committing to an independent inquiry if Labour is successful at the next election.
The Prime Minister’s announcement comes after a tense week of developments in the case.
In a surprising turn, former Minister for Defence, Wayne Mapp, was revealed as a major source for the book. Mapp was the Minister in charge during the raids, but has since been critical of the NZDF’s handling of information and the government response.
The NZDF’s story has also shifted substantially in recent weeks. An initial claim that no civilians were killed has now given way to the current admission that some may have died, albeit accidentally.
With calls for an investigation coming from opposition parties, lawyers, and human rights advocates, it seemed likely that English would bow to public pressure. Indeed, Hager and Stephenson suggested that they had left the book’s release until after John Key’s resignation to allow English to investigate without the political pressure of his mentor’s career on the line.
The timing of Hit & Run’s release was no accident. English was given an opportunity to examine these serious allegations before the election, and prove that he could take leadership where others had not. Instead, the status quo remains and New Zealand is still in the dark.
Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill
The Māori Party is facing renewed criticism of its proposed changes to the way Māori land is governed.
The government has been in the process of reviewing the law for the past six years and is now in parliament with Te Ture Whenua Māori Bill nearing its third reading.
However, the Bill has been controversial since its inception, drawing criticism from opposition parties and iwi leaders.
Many of the most controversial changes centre on how Māori land is rated and how it is taken under the Public Works Act, two factors that led to substantial Māori land loss in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Meanwhile, Labour has promised to repeal the law if in government. Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Meka Whaitiri drew attention to the purpose of the Bill, noting a significant change in wording from “protection” to “utilisation” of Māori land. Whaitiri was also joined by New Zealand First in criticism of the process of consultation with iwi leaders.
The Bill was also the subject of substantial Waitangi Tribunal investigations initiated by whānau and hapū from Mataatua, Te Tai Tokerau, and Te Tai Rāwhiti. The Tribunal was critical of the Bill’s development, saying the government had shown it did not have sufficient support from Māori but intended to continue with the changes anyway.
The Bill’s sponsor, Māori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell, contends that there has been a thorough consultation process throughout the country. Flavell says that many of the recommendations from iwi leaders were taken on board.
Proposed changes are also putting a strain on the fledgling alliance between the Māori and MANA parties. MANA’s Hone Harawira pulled no punches, calling the Bill a “poisonous and destructive cancer.” He said that the legislation paved the way for greater loss of Māori land to foreign investors, and cut off access to the Māori Land Court.
The Māori Party has faced criticism of being out of touch with it’s constituency since first entering coalition with National in 2008. Those charges helped to land Labour an almost clean sweep of the seven Māori electorates in 2014 and reduce the Māori Party’s representation in Parliament to just two MPs. If Flavell is to remain in government past 2017, he can’t afford to prove his critics right.