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The Letter - 30th June 2003

The Letter From Wellington

The Letter
30 JUNE 2003


Helen Clark’s announcement on Monday that Labour would legislate to extinguish any Maori claim to the foreshore and seabed was poll driven. Labour conducts regular opinion and focus group polling and this says there is growing public reaction against the government’s race-based funding.


It is unprecedented for eight MPs, including four Ministers, to issue a press statement dissenting with caucus and cabinet. While the ninth floor spin is ‘this is MMP’, of course it is not. All are Labour MPs. It is the politics of race. The Westminster convention of cabinet responsibility is that Ministers who disagree should resign. Labour’s own caucus rules do not allow MPs to dissent from an agreed policy. The press statement is a very serious challenge to Helen Clark. The government is in effect saying there are different rules for Maori.


Monday: Helen Clark announces the government will pass a law asserting the Crown's ownership of the seabed and foreshore. Tuesday: “The land wars are over, so the consent of tangata whenua is required before customary title can be extinguished,” - Labour Maori Caucus. Thursday: “It is also the Government’s intention to preserve the ability of Maori claimants to pursue claims to the foreshore and seabed,” – Margaret Wilson.


It is a very serious matter in a free society for government to refuse access to the courts to citizens to assert a property claim. The Appeal Court unanimously ruled that iwi had the right to make a case in the Maori Land Court. The Court did not rule that Maori have a customary right to the foreshore and felt the Marlborough case had little chance of succeeding. It is unlikely that in 2003 Maori have any ownership claims. The 1992 Maori fisheries settlement was legislated as “full and final”. Common law rights are ‘use it or lose it.’ The Appeal Court in the 1963 Ninety Mile Beach case ruled there were no Maori customary rights. The advantage of courts is there is some certainty in the end.


To legislate to assert the Crown’s full ownership is also a defendable position, it is similar to the Crown’s claim to the Queen’s Chain. Parliament, the courts, and Maori, have thought this to be the position at least since 1963.


Labour‘s present position has no moral or legal authority to assert Crown ownership but then acknowledges Maori customary rights. The Appeal Court made it clear that Maori customary and usage rights are the equivalent of ownership. An access that is not exclusive is not a right. As the government does not know what Maori customary rights are it does not know what it is negotiating and the claim has moved from being a property to a racial claim. History is repeating itself. In the 1980s some Maori had some fishing claims to some inshore fishery. By refusing to let the court decide, the claim became a very expensive racial claim on behalf of all Maori out to the 200-mile exclusive fishing zone. It is still not settled.


Labour has cited Lake Taupo as a possible model. The Bolger government, with no debate, ceded the lakebed to Tuwharetoa with an agreement for free public access for recreational and scientific purposes. Taupo fishermen report increasing incidents of stand over tactics by young militant Maori demanding money and vandalising boats and cars. The Crown Research Institute brought a submarine from Germany for much needed research on Lake Taupo – an active volcano and the site of the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded human history. The iwi demanded substantial financial compensation. The sub sat in its crate on the wharf and returned to Germany without getting wet.


Labour may not have a majority for its planned legislation. This is an issue that might bring down the government. ACT certainly will not support Ministers’ cheque book Treaty settlements that have no legal or moral authority.


The United Party is devastated by the passing of the Bill. United MPs were sure that the Bill would fail and confidently told their supporters that this was going to be their trophy – an example of how United was making a difference. United MPs are also shocked that Helen Clark used her office to pressurise MPs into voting for the Bill, and that every Labour Minister voted in favour including Phil Goff who used his position as Minister of Justice to move amendments. United MPs are asking why they are supporting a government that is passing measures they are so opposed to.


Last year foreign investment in NZ fell by 93% - by far the biggest fall in the OECD.


Contact Energy has just completed a multi-million dollar upgrade of its New Plymouth power station but it is sitting idle because the applications to the Regional Council for resource consent have been objected to.


The public keeps losing bicycles and the police sell them in lost property auctions. Not any more. The Commerce Commission has told the police that under the Fair Trading Act every bike should have an owner’s manual. No manual - $30,000 fine. So the lost bikes are now being sold for scrap.

- This message has been brought to you from the ACT New Zealand Parliamentary Office

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