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Will Prime Minister Cry Again Next February?

Will Prime Minister Cry Again Next February?

Prime Minister Clark's crying in the face of Waitangi protestors should have warned that she might not have the strength to stand up for ordinary people when the going gets tough, ACT Maori Affairs Spokesman Stephen Franks said today, commenting on the Hauraki foreshore and seabed hui.

"Until the Appeal Court's decision, Crown foreshore and seabed were the common heritage of all New Zealanders. Few Maori expressed a burning sense of grievance over them, and even fewer had asserted customary rights over coast for more than 100 years - but now Maori have been shown that determined growling produces political cowardice.

"A genuine leader would never have allowed this crisis to develop. Even if we don't see Ms Clark's tears this time, all New Zealanders will pay the price.

"Leadership was needed immediately after the Appeal Court decision, but we heard nothing for four days. A strong PM would have immediately made it clear that these new customary titles were out of the question. She would have been prepared for confrontation, and known it would be fatal to start with any promise she did not mean.

"On June 22, she promised to legislate the claims away - but her Maori MPs stared her down on June 23. In negotiations like this, if credibility is lost at the first hurdle, the other side must then push until they find the real bottom line - if there is one.

"Attorney General Margaret Wilson lasted only a day. Ms Clark then took over in Parliament, and was humiliated by her evasions. Dr Cullen has since fronted it, while Ms Clark hides in confusion and dithering, hoping Dr Cullen, or John Tamihere can pull a compromise rabbit from a hat.

"The Appeal Court decision is not complex. It said customary property might be resuscitated, but warned it could be unlikely, when the facts were properly investigated. As soon as the decision was studied ACT said the new titles would be so divisive and discriminatory they couldn't be allowed. Equally, to uphold the rule of law and show respect for property rights, the claimants should not be stopped from pursuing their court cases. Compensation could be the result, if they eventually succeed, against the odds.

"No one can know the boundaries until the facts have been investigated. There may be no legitimate claims. In this position offers of `guardian' status for Maori show weakness. Thousands of Maori who have never read the Appeal Court's decision, and are unlikely to, will be wrongly convinced the Court has admitted the existence of customary ownership.

"Maori will say they do not expect to exclude anyone. As soon as any entitlement is locked in, Maori will brand guardianship as the `blankets and beads' deal it is, to be replaced by normal tangible ownership. A tawdry political deal to avoid current embarrassment will generate grievance for the next generation, if not before. The Taranaki leases gave Maori rentals on land being used by others. What does `guardianship' give?

"This must end before the Tüwharetoa hui. No non-Maori Government spokesman has been seen or heard for days. They won't even stand up for ordinary people, insisting on a few facts in the debate. Only ACT has offered leadership since the Court's decision," Mr Franks said.

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