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Legitimate Property Rights Forgotten in Foreshore

Legitimate Property Rights Forgotten in Foreshore Debate

The New Zealand Business Roundtable opposes the government's plan to stop Maori from pursuing legitimate customary rights to the foreshore and seabed in court, executive director Roger Kerr said.

The Business Roundtable is today releasing its submission on the government's proposal to extinguish private property rights, including Maori customary rights, to the foreshore and seabed.

"The government should allow the court process to run its course," Mr Kerr said.

"Maori customary rights to the foreshore and seabed are property rights that pre-date the introduction of British common law. There is considerable uncertainty as to whether customary title would be granted. That uncertainty cannot be resolved and justice cannot be done unless the courts address the substantive claims before them.

"If private property rights are extinguished, fair compensation would be required in the same way that the taking of land for public works warrants compensation.

"The Business Roundtable believes the foreshore and seabed should generally be publicly owned with open access and use. However, existing private rights to the foreshore and seabed should be upheld. These rights include legitimate Maori customary rights to title and lesser common law rights. Provision should remain for the future issue of new rights where this would be in the overall national interest.

"The Business Roundtable submission argues that the Crown's interests in the foreshore and seabed should remain in public (Crown) ownership. Establishing a new framework to apply to property in the public domain is likely to be costly, both in terms of resources committed and the uncertainty generated. There seems no point in introducing a new legal concept if the objective is simply to guarantee open access and use of the foreshore and seabed that all New Zealanders have generally enjoyed since the 1840s.

"Neither Maori nor other citizens are likely to be persuaded that fudging the issue of ownership rights advances their interests.

"We oppose the establishment of a separate branch of the Maori Land Court to allocate customary rights. This approach risks igniting a new round of claims that would be difficult to sustain at common law and could take decades to settle.

"The overturning of law that had been relied on for many years is the underlying cause of the predicament in which government now finds itself. If there is a case for overturning settled law, this should be for parliament, not unelected judges, to consider," Mr Kerr concluded.

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