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Dunne Speech to Recreational Fishing Council

Peter Dunne Speech to Recreational Fishing Council Blenheim

Mr President, Mr Hetherington, delegates, thank you for the invitation to talk with you at this most interesting of times as New Zealand debates the fundamental issue of our citizens' rights to access our natural resources in a fair and open way.

You, of course, have specific concerns about where and when your members can exercise their rights to fish for recreation or for subsistence.

And I have spoken to your conferences in the past about the balance between the legitimate aspirations of recreational fishers and commercial fishing interests.

In recent days, as I'm sure you all know, all those rights and aspirations have come under broader question as the government tries to work out on the one hand how to allay the fears of New Zealanders who think they are about to be denied the right to go to the beach or onto the water without having to pay for that right or be impeded in any way.

On the other hand, the government wants to reassure Maori that rights they thought they had are not about to be arbitrarily overridden, causing a possible electoral backlash for the Labour Party.

In many senses, it is a new twist to an old argument, but one which is probably now at is most prominent and, consequently, one which has the greatest potential to divide this country for many years to come, if we do not get it right.

Let me first address your specific concerns.

You have complained that the Department of Conservation is arbitrarily trying to lock up vast areas of New Zealand's coastline in marine reserves.

And further that DOC is doing this on the basis of little consultation, random selection methods, bad science and silly advice from the wilder-eyed greenies.

I am encouraged by recent advice from your President that DOC appears to be somewhat coming to the party through being more willing to engage in dialogue with you on these issues.

I am pleased with that development and would warmly encourage the Department and its Minister to do a great deal more.

I was disappointed recently to see the new Minister, Chris Carter, say that he saw his role as being the champion of the conservation cause.

This is a narrow and wrong perception and leads to the suspicion that the Minister has become that most pathetic of politicians, a captive of his officials.

The Minister of Conservation's role is to ensure that all New Zealanders who wish to, have the opportunity to experience and enjoy the richness of the great outdoors in this country, and that our conservation strategy is directed towards making that possible.

As a Minister, it is his responsibility to ensure New Zealand's conservation estate and resources are managed and developed for the benefit of all New Zealanders, not just a few zealots who want to preserve every blade of grass or every seaweed-strewn rock in their pristine state before the arrival of humankind on these shores.

It is extremist views of that sort that have led in frustration to the formation of the New Zealand Council for Common Sense in Conservation, which says it is battling "the all too frequent abuse of powers by the Department of Conservation and the general lack of respect for private property rights".

While I am disappointed in the Minister's attitude, I actually think the problem is far more deep-seated.

The blunt reality is that the Department of Conservation has been captured in both a staffing and policy sense by environmental fundamentalists who see theirs and the Department's mission as intertwined - to save the natural environment for future generations by effectively locking it away from access by the current population, and rejecting out of hand any notion of positive economic or recreational development of the conservation estate, even where that might lead to a net conservation benefit.

More sadly, that process of capture has extended through to the political level with environmental fundamentalists working in Ministers' offices and thereby directly influencing and choosing the advice that the Government receives on these issues.

This has not just happened under this government - it has been going on for some time, and is proving to be a major impediment to the development of sensible and balanced policy.

With it has come the capture of local Conservation Boards who increasingly see their role - on no statutory basis - as simply to say no to anything that might alter the environmental status quo.

The battle over marine reserves as opposed to marine parks is a good example.

At the moment, the zealots are often those promoting the marine park, and through their channels of influence are also the ones shaping the Minister's final decision.

It is, sadly, too often a case of game, set and match - even before you start, as those arguing against the Wellington South Coast Marine Reserve found out .

So I warmly support you in your battle to ensure the establishment of New Zealand's marine reserves are the result of consultation and agreement with all interested groups and that all points of view are listened to before final decisions are made.

Not only should all submissions be required to be made public, but so should all DOC advice and comment to the Minister be similarly in the public domain.

I note too your struggle for funding to support the work of your council and I pledge my support in your efforts to make the government listen to you. With only 8 votes out of 120 in Parliament, United Future cannot compel action, but we do have some influence in the Beehive.

The Conservation Act needs to be rewritten to stop the nonsense currently occurring and the Department of Conservation opened up to become more representative.

Conservation boards should be reclaimed from the zealots, or abolished.

Your battle to exercise your rights against powerful influences in the government and bureaucracy is now being reflected in the so-called 'foreshore and seabed' debate.

There is much confusion over this debate, as there appears to be no common view on what such terms as 'customary usage, customary rights, and customary title' actually mean and what rights they confer on their holders.

I will leave it to the lawyers to tease out the detail, but I want to make United Future's position crystal clear.

Any resolution to this debate that prevents any New Zealander from freely accessing the beaches and the sea for legitimate recreational or business purposes will be wrong and unworkable.

The Appeal Court has said the Crown assumption that it owns the beaches and the seabeds through a simple change in sovereignty and not an expressed piece of legislation is an incorrect assumption.

Fair enough, it was an historical oversight which can be put right immediately by Parliament.

Furthermore, it comes as a shock to learn that there is no public right of recreation in the sea or at the beach. Apparently, we only have a barbie in the sand at the sufferance and benevolence of the Crown.

It is plain that our fragile rights of access to the foreshore and sea must be defined clearly by statute and soon.

I am deeply disquieted by the sight of our deputy Prime Minister and senior Ministerial colleagues emerging from closed door meetings with their Maori MP's saying talks are going well and everyone is very happy, although it's not possible to give any detail about what's being negotiated.

I beg to differ. The vast majority of New Zealanders are not happy; we want to know what's going on and we want to be included in those talks.

It is outrageous that Ministers are negotiating in secret with one section of New Zealand society over ill-defined rights affecting us all - and we're not allowed to know what's going on!

If these negotiations end with any certificate of title over a beach or a seabed being given to anyone, then what we will have is a transferable property right which opens the way to sale of beaches, licensing or charging for access and we will have lost one of the great distinguishing features of New Zealand society.

This is a comparatively simple issue which can be easily resolved, but one which runs the risk of not only being complicated by bureaucratic and political machinations, but also being turned into a poisonous wedge that sets New Zealander against New Zealander.

The common-sense outcome to strive for is one which preserves the customary rights of access we have known we have had, without creating new rights, or agreements or usages or whatever that leave every single one of us - Maori and European - suspicious that things are being changed to our detriment.

The Government should start from the position that this is a sleeping dog best left to lie, and that its only intervention should be to make it absolutely clear that nothing has or is going to change.

Anything more activist than that will be a recipe for disaster and the opening sentence of a dramatic political suicide note.

I retain some modest confidence the common sense will yet prevail on this vexed issue.

Delegates, I wish you well in your deliberations this weekend and I look forward to your support in defending the rights of all New Zealand citizens to access freely some of the greatest features of this lovely land.

Thank you.

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