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PM’s Presser – It’s Public Domain, Foreshore

PM’s Presser – It’s Public Domain, Foreshore

The more things change; the more they stay domain.

That was the message from Prime Minister John Key at Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference, ending months of deliberation on Maori rights to the country’s seabed and foreshore – but the Maori Party says it has wrung major concessions from the Government.

Key said the Government had decided to repeal Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed under the 2004 Act and place the seabed and foreshore into public domain.

There would be “no practical effect” for New Zealanders: the land would be incapable of fee simple ownership, but existing private titles would remain unaffected.

The term ‘public domain’ could change to one with a closer equivalent in Te Reo – “but the essence of the proposal is the same.”

But Maori Party co-leaders Sharples and Turia said the new legislation differed as it allowed Maori to claim customary title and rights to some areas of the seabed and foreshore, either through the High Court or by direct negotiation with the Crown.

Turia had said last week public domain could represent “a bridge too far” for many iwi, but Turia said Monday the arrangement now had iwi leaders’ support.

“Obviously there is concern around the notion of public domain, but in terms of the customary title and customary rights we have been given an assurance that those rights will be as sacrosanct as any other rights to title.”

Maori could then exercise their customary title by developing, leasing or negotiating ownership of any natural resources found there – such as gravel or iron sands.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson agreed.

“If for example someone came along to Iwi A and wanted a huge development on their customary title, then like any property owner they would be able to say yes or no, and that’s perfectly reasonable.”

Finlayson said he would not be surprised if “quite a few” groups would be interested in negotiating customary title with the Crown.

But Key said he did not believe many claims would be successful as they would still have to demonstrate exclusive use and occupation of the land since 1840.

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