And so ends my legal career. After 5 years of practising law, I have made the decision to pursue a career in another field and expand my horizons. It was not an easy decision to make, but after two weeks in my new role, it is probably one of the best career decisions that I could have made.
Regular readers will know that I spent the last three years working on the Ngā Puhi Waitangi Tribunal District Inquiry, an inquiry which finally commenced hearings earlier this year. This work was all-consuming and, ultimately, developed into a very negative environment to work in – even when you try to operate on the sidelines as much as possible. The entire Waitangi Tribunal process is, simply put, broken. Hearings are constantly delayed, lawyers treat filing deadlines as simply guidelines, the Crown constantly refuses to engage with the evidence during the early stages and is not required to address the specific claims made by claimants, funding is scarce for claimants and their lawyers alike, and the less said about the in-fighting amongst legal counsel the better. People speak of the Treaty Gravy Train that we Māori lawyers are on, but the reality is a stark contrast to the public perception. Even with a supportive firm behind you, a large amount of travel costs, research costs, and even legal work is funded through personal resources. With the Ministry of Justice taking upwards of a year to pay out on an invoice, I know many lawyers who have been driven out of the field or into bankruptcy.
In the Ngā Puhi inquiry, the problems are more severe. The Crown, in pursuing a settlement with one faction of Ngā Puhi, has created massive divisions amongst the Iwi and this filters through into the hearings themselves. At a recent hearing, Titewhai Harawira’s right to speak was challenged almost universally from the floor, and her claim to represent the elders of Ngā Puhi was met with a cry of “bullsh*t” from the crowd. Needless to say, the Tribunal struggled to retain control after that. Even our own are seeking to derail the process, with the NZ Māori Council representatives on the CFRT removing funding assistance for claimants and marae to attend and host the hearings placing the remainder of the 2013 hearings in serious doubt. As I said, the entire Waitangi Tribunal process is broken.
Which is why, and the end of March, I made the decision to leave. It was not an easy decision, but the negativity surrounding this mahi was no longer worth the effort. Thankfully I had a few leads lined up, and at the end of April I took up a position at Deloitte, working in their Accounting and Advisory, and Māori Business Advisory service lines. After two weeks, I can see a lot of potential in this role. My engagement with Māori clients has gone from focusing on very negative issues to more forward-looking opportunities. The plans that some of these organisations have are incredible, and it is such a blessing to be working to assist the many Māori organisations who are creating a better future for our people.
What then for Māori Law and Politics? I will continue writing on Māori legal and political issues because they remain a passion of mine. And, as I learn and develop my skills in the business environment, I aim to write more on Māori economic development issues and really develop the body of work in this field. The potential for developing a Māori economy, based on Māori values is enormous, and the more ideas that we can create, discuss, and share, is going to be a massive benefit to this growth. And there is nothing more exciting than being in a position to assist in this growth.