The Te Maunga Railways Land Report of August 1994 concerned the use of the Public Works Act 1928. The claim, lodged by Michelle Henare and others, was granted urgency because the land involved at Te Maunga, in the Tauranga district, was the subject of a Māori Land Court order. That order revested the land in its former Māori owners, but with the condition that a payment of $70,000, plus GST, be made before it was returned. The claimants sought relief from this condition. Ms Henare put it this way:
I only want to express our concern about these things that have happened to us over a long time. My dad would have liked to have seen us give it our best shot. We felt it unjust that land be taken, pass from us, by Railways. We felt it has always been ours. We should not have to pay the $70,000. It is not the monetary value. It is the cultural tie that we do not want to lose. … My personal view is that the land will always be ours. They may use it as and when. It does not cease to be ours because the Crown has used it.
The land had been taken in 1955 for railways purposes under the Public Works Act 1928 and used for housing employees of the New Zealand Railways Corporation. The Tribunal found no evidence that ‘this transaction, a compulsory taking under the Public Works Act 1928, [could] be construed as a voluntary agreement to sell, on a willing seller basis’:
There was no attempt to explore alternative forms of tenure, such as a lease or licence to occupy, which would have preserved the parent title, and therefore their mana, and the rangatiratanga of the tangata whenua over their lands guaranteed to them in article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi.
In 1985, the land was considered to be surplus to Railways Corporation requirements. At that time, the Public Works Act 1981 set out the procedures and conditions for disposing of Maori land that had been taken by the Crown for a public work but was no longer required that purpose. The land at Te Maunga was a small block, but the issues raised by the claim involved important principles of the Treaty of Waitangi: the Crown right to make laws and take land in the public interest (kawanatanga), against the guarantees of protection of Māori ownership of lands (rangatiratanga):
There was no concept of compulsory taking in customary Maori tenure systems. … the Crown guaranteed (ka wakarita ka wakaae) to Maori te tino rangatiratanga, the full authority over their lands until such time as they chose to dispose of them at an agreed price. There is in the Treaty, therefore, no assumption of a fictitious willing seller for the purpose of compulsory taking of Maori land by the Crown.
In reaching its conclusions, the Tribunal discussed the values assigned to land:
In the Maori world there are also values attributed to land and identity, ancestry and occupation, over many generations, which can never be translated into monetary terms. This is why Maori land, compulsorily acquired, is not seen by Maori as paid for, or adequately compensated, by a mere sum of money.
The Tribunal referred to the words of Justice Richardson in a 1987 court case, New Zealand Maori Council and Latimer v Attorney-General and Others, that the 'possession of land and the rights to land are not measured simply in terms of economic utility and immediately realisable commercial values'. It also quoted the words of the New Zealand Māori Council:
[Māori land] provides us with a sense of identity, belonging and continuity. It is proof of our continued existence not only as a people, but as the tangata whenua of this country. It is proof of our tribal and kin group ties. Maori land represents turangawaewae. It is proof of our link with the ancestors of our past, and with the generations yet to come. It is an assurance that we shall forever exist as a people, for as long as the land shall last.
The Tribunal of Judge Hingston, Pamela Ringwood, Evelyn Stokes and Makarini Temara concluded that this claim was well founded and recommended that the Crown take all necessary steps to ensure that the Te Maunga Railways land was revested in the former Māori owners without the payment of the $70,000 purchase price required by the Minister of Railways. They also made some more general recommendations for changes to public works legislation and the offer-back procedures to reflect more positively the Treaty principle of the Crown's fiduciary obligation toward Māori. In support, the Tribunal quoted a 1988 statement by the Minister of Lands, the Honourable Peter Tapsell, to the Māori Land Court:
Where the people were required to be divested of land, it is my view that if it is not essential for a Public Work it ought to be returned to them. It is, moreover, my view that the land ought to be returned to them unencumbered. That is it seems to me an injustice to say that we took your land eighty years ago and gave you fifty pounds, and now you can have your land back, provided you pay half a million dollars. That seems to be grossly unjust.