Chief Ombudsman’s opinion under the Ombudsmen Act - Erebus Memorial
- I have found that the lack of consultation by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage/Manatū Taonga (the Ministry) before forming a preference in August 2018 for Dove-Myer Robinson Park/Taurarua as the site for the National Erebus Memorial was unreasonable. Specifically, my view is that the Ministry should have consulted the wider local community and all Tāmaki Makaurau iwi comprising the mana whenua before forming a preference for any site in Auckland.
- I also find that the Ministry acted unreasonably in failing to reply in October 2019 to correspondence about the resource consent.
- I do not consider that the Ministry acted unreasonably in the design process that it undertook for the memorial.
- I do not consider that the Ministry deliberately misled Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei or Waitematā Local Board members as to the level of support from Erebus family members for a memorial sited in the park.
- While the Ministry has taken a range of steps to protect the physical health of a notable pōhutukawa tree in the park, strong views about the impact construction will have on the mana and mauri of the tree were conveyed to me during my investigation. I am satisfied that the Ministry is now cognisant of these.
- While I am critical of the lack of community involvement prior to the Ministry preferring Dove‑Myer Robinson Park, I do not consider that its own preference for that site can be said to be wrong. What the lack of consultation has done is deny an opportunity for wider community and Māori involvement in considering a range of possible locations for the national memorial. A sense of grievance over this continues to exist among some members of the local community.
- Thus, while the project had moved swiftly up to August 2018 in an endeavour to begin work on site in time for the fortieth anniversary of the tragedy in November 2019, it moved much more slowly thereafter, taking more than two years before the park was finally confirmed as the location. I accept that unanimity was never feasible but seeking the views of the wider Auckland community and its iwi and building those into decision‑making in 2018, even though this may have delayed the site selection slightly, would have been reasonable and could have led to faster progress for the project in the long-run. Though whether a start could ever have been achieved by November 2019 is doubtful.
- In considering an appropriate recommendation I have had regard to a range of factors. There is a considerable sense of grievance amongst some members of the community which might reasonably be seen as tainting the memorial if no further steps are taken to resolve this before construction begins. The Ministry and Ministers have to balance this against several other factors, including the support for the site which does exist. My recommendation, which it is hoped is constructive in this complex context, is that before a decision is made to begin construction on this site the Ministry undertakes reasonable steps to attempt to resolve the sense of grievance that the failure to consult more widely has created.