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Don't Take Your Eye Off The Beachball, Ms Clark

Don't Take Your Eye Off The Beachball, Ms Clark

The announcement of a Cabinet decision to restore Crown ownership of seabed and foreshore sound promising. But the fine print is far from reassuring, ACT New Zealand Treaty Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"Prime Minister Helen Clark may have a view of what the public wants and deserves - namely certainty that access to beaches, fishing and aquaculture will not become a race privilege. But that will not be the agenda of Attorney General Margaret Wilson, or Associate Justice Minister Tariana Turia," Mr Franks said.

"Over the weekend, Ms Turia made it plain that her faction of Maoridom wants the ownership the Court of Appeal says it might claim. And today's announcement from Ms Wilson clearly creates the fudge room to turn our beaches and seabed into a permanent custody battle.

"Ms Wilson says there will be `customary use reserved for Maori', at the same time as she tries to reassure pakeha - and Maori without coastline claims - that the Crown will `own the seabed and foreshore for all New Zealanders'.

"Ms Wilson says she wants `an inclusive public policy approach ... as opposed to an exclusive legal approach which requires winners and losers'. This issue needs a clear outcome. People must know what rights they have; there must be winners and losers.

"As I said on Friday, from experience, Labour will try and do ambiguous deals. It will make promises, and give vague rights that Maori will think are equivalent to ownership - while telling everyone else the ownership stays with the Crown. This is a recipe for endless uncertainty and fresh grievance.

"Customary use rights are as certain to produce hostility, standover conflicts and poor stewardship. They are just the kind of uncertainty that Ms Wilson acknowledges, and has been told by Cabinet to go away and rule out.

"We need the kind of clear property rights described in Article Two of the Treaty - exclusive possession, use and enjoyment, and transferability. They guarantee proper stewardship. We could get the worst of all worlds - the seabed as a common, but with race privileges, and no one able to make decisions without endless consultation and compromise. Ms Wilson can't settle this. It's against her religion to uphold straightforward property rights," Mr Franks said.

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