No favours in Rena wreck decision, says Crown

The Crown is defending its decision to back a plan to dump the Rena shipwreck on the Astrolabe Reef while rejecting claims it had breached the Treaty of Waitangi.

Crown representatives presented evidence to the Waitangi Tribunal Hearing in Tauranga yesterday, where three iwi groups claimed a removal deed drawn up between the Government and the Rena's owners, Daina Shipping, was a sham.

The tribunal hearings were held under urgency.

Daina paid $27.6 million to the Government for the deed but a clause said a further $10.4m would be handed over if it supported a resource consent to leave the wreck on the reef.

Claimants said it created a "powerful incentive" for the Crown to favour Daina Shipping's application to leave the wreck be.

But Crown counsel Karen Clark, QC, said those suggestions were unfounded and disturbing.

"The actual terms of the deed do not support that construction," she said.

"The Crown is acutely conscious of the treaty issues that arise for tangata whenua and has tailored a treaty-compliant process in order to meet its obligations."

Contentious sections in the deed include a Clause 4, which said: "In the event that the applicant applies for a consent, the Crown and Maritime NZ will in good faith consider making a submission or submissions in support of the consent."

The $10.4m payment was dependent on the conservation minister and Maritime NZ not opposing the consent "either directly or indirectly".

Clark said the $10.4m payment was minor compared to the Government's annual budget of $85m and Clause 4 did not release the Government from its legal obligations. "It almost doesn't need to be said that the Crown will adhere to legality," she said.

Earlier in the day, Motiti Rohe Moana Trust spokesman Hugh Sayers, said his organisation had been excluded from consultation which left the community marginalised.

He said the trust struggled to keep pace with the "antics of the Crown", which constantly rebuffed tribal attempts to participate.

"The Crown at the highest level refused to engage with tangata whenua," said Sayers.

He claimed the Crown played off iwi along the Tauranga Coast with powerful interests speaking on behalf of the tiny Motiti Island community.

"The conduct of the Crown since the grounding of the Rena has been dishonourable and dishonest," he said.

"The expectation has always been that from the outset when the ship grounded it would be removed and everything cleaned up."

Kaumatua Umuhuri Matehaere said the ideal solution was the complete removal of the wreck, but the Crown's lack of engagement put doubt in the minds of coastal communities.

"We've struggled amongst our own people, we've struggled to work together," said Matehaere.

"It's unfortunate that every area with tangata whenua have issues of their own and that's the same with Motiti."

Maritime New Zealand regional compliance manager Dave Billington said the Rena salvage was one of the world's most challenging and testing operations and that delayed their engagement with Motiti Maori.

He said Maritime NZ was a small government agency and the response took up all of their resources but consultation improved over time.

"We were a bit slow off the mark with our engagement with iwi and hapu," he said.

Deputy secretary at the Environment Ministry, Mark Sowden, took a lead role in the Rena recovery programme.

He said the environmental disaster was a Bay-wide issue.

"This was not exclusively a Motiti specific matter, and it required, and still does, collective iwi involvement," Sowden said.

Motiti hapu felt they were left out of the process and Sowden confirmed they had a deliberate policy to engage only with iwi and their appointed representatives. 

Waikato Times