The Law Commission commenced this self-referred project in 2004. Its terms of reference for the project are to develop a legal framework that will be available as an option for Māori tribal and other groups wishing to develop representative bodies to manage communally-owned assets and give effect to communal rights and responsibilities on behalf of group members.
The Commission has built on the recommendations and options outlined in its Study Paper 13, Treaty of Waitangi Claims: Addressing the Post-Settlement Phase for which there was widespread support. The project has addressed that paper's recommendations for specific legislation to be developed which would enable a new form of Māori legal entity to be created, tailored specifically to Māori needs. The Commission has also gone further, to make substantial recommendations in regard to the process by which such entities are formed.
The pressing need for a new legislative framework for Māori legal entities has been heightened by ongoing progress towards Treaty settlements, by the passage of the Māori Fisheries Act, the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act in 2004, and by the requirements of the Local Government Act 2002 for greater engagement between Māori and local government.
This draft report proposes a standard umbrella governance structure with certain core requirements regarding democratic representation, stewardship, information disclosure, accountability, and dispute resolution procedures. Māori groups will, however, largely be free to design corporate structures that suit their own particular circumstances and traditions.
The report therefore consists of recommendations for minimum legislative requirements, plus suggestions for consideration by Māori communities which are developing their charters or constitutions. These suggestions and their accompanying commentary are intended for use by such communities as a sort of governance handbook.
The Commission has already consulted with a large number of tribal bodies and government agencies. Its draft report comprises its work on the project to date. The draft is in a comparatively unpolished form, all the footnoting is still to be completed and checked, and it does not necessarily contain the Commission's final views on the issues discussed. However, the Commission considers that it contains sufficient substance for it to be circulated, in the hope of receiving considered comments from recipients early in 2006 so that progress can be made in completing the project and reporting to the Government. It therefore sent the draft to some 300 individuals and organisations before Christmas, asking for their comments.
The Commission would particularly welcome comment on the level of compulsory requirements it has recommended, as opposed to matters which it has left to choice; in other words, should some of its “recommendations” be “suggestions,” or vice versa?
The Commission hopes to receive comments by mid-February 2006. These need not be in any particular form; e.g. it would welcome e-mailed messages, or notes which are written legibly on the draft report. It would also be very willing to meet with those who would prefer to comment orally.