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Maori Claim to Marine Areas a Mabo Problem for Gov

Maori Claim to Marine Areas a Mabo Problem for Government

The Court of Appeal's decision that customary rights can be a basis for the Maori Land Court to award ownership of foreshore, could confront the Government with problems as legally knotty as in Australia's Mabo uproar, ACT New Zealand Treaty Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"In effect the decision also means that reservations from settlement deals could have much more value for Maori than the Crown may have thought when it agreed that the settlements did not include claims under customary law, as an exception to `full and final settlement'.

"Successive Ministers were warned against leaving open these grounds for fresh claims.

"The real impact of the decision may not be great in direct financial payment terms - it is too soon to say. But the costs could be enormous in terms of new power to block development, to delay vital policy decisions on marine farming, to insist on `consultation' or perhaps compensation for not objecting, and interrupting the ordinary expectations and potential employment of thousands of New Zealanders.

"We already have an inkling of the predisposition of at least one important Judge of the Maori Land Court, which will now have the power to determine the claims. Chief Judge Joe Williams is also the acting chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal. The Tribunal recently issued a report which invited claimants to come back to them if they were disappointed by the outcome of the Court of Appeal case just decided. It is hard to imagine they would have if they had not expected to find that loss of foreshore and seabed represented a Treaty breach.

"Now Judge Williams will have a chance to decide just how much has been lost.

"This case may also test the new Treaty `principle', decided on the hoof by Prime Minister Helen Clark three weeks ago, when she first heard of the Tribunal's oil and gas decision. She rejected it on the grounds that the uncompensated 1937 expropriation of oil and gas was in the national interest. She also made it plain that the Tribunal's recommendation of compensation, would be rejected because it would not be "in the national interest".

"If the Government has anywhere near the same concern for all the users of our marine areas and foreshores, as they have for oil companies, she should now say immediately what the Government will do. Devastating years of uncertainty as the Maori Land Court works its way through the claims will not be in anyone's definition of the national interest", Mr Franks said.

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