The family who owned much of what is the RNZAF Woodbourne base will lose the chance to get their land back under a Treaty of Waitangi settlement before Parliament.
They say efforts to resolve Treaty claims in the upper South Island will rob them of their right to be offered the land back if the base were to close.
Wellington man Tim Fairhall's family have farmed in the area around the base, near Blenheim, since the 1850s. The Woodbourne land was taken off them in 1939 for construction of the base.
Under the Te Tau Ihu Claims Settlement Bill, iwi would be offered the chance to buy the land and lease it back to the Crown. If the base closed, they could develop it or sell it on.
However, under the Public Works Act, the land should be offered back to the people it was taken off. Mr Fairhall said the Government had ignored the offer-back provision of the Public Works Act.
"The family will have no future opportunity to gets its Woodbourne land back. That's the guts of what the bill is doing, and we believe that is just plain wrong."
It was not iwi's fault that the land had been offered by the Government in the Treaty settlement, he said.
"Iwi had no idea there was any problem with them being allowed to buy Woodbourne . . . we're not even sure the Government told them they had this problem."
He believed the base could close in the foreseeable future.
"The Crown has got itself into this position because it looks like their research around the land was not that flash, and they didn't realise the Fairhalls still had some rights here.
"I accept that the Crown is endeavouring . . . to correct past wrongs to iwi," he said. "I do not accept, however, that the Crown should, in the process, create another wrong to the Fairhall family by including Woodbourne."
The bill incorporates eight deeds of settlement for iwi in the north of the South Island. A spokesman for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said the Woodbourne offer was integral to the settlement.
If the base closed after the transfer, it would not be offered back to the Fairhalls as it would no longer be owned by the Crown, the spokesman said. The family could be eligible for a solatium, or compensation payment, of up to $20,000.
Paia Riwaka-Herbert, chief executive of Ngati Apa ki te Ra To, one of the iwi involved in the settlement, said it was a matter for the Crown and the Fairhalls to sort out.
The Maori affairs select committee will report back on the bill on December 5. Fairfax NZ
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