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NZers - Owners Of The Foreshore and Seabed?

“We the people of New Zealand” - owners of the foreshore and seabed?

By Gordon F Copeland

On Monday 18 August, the Government released its proposals on the foreshore and seabed of New Zealand. That night Prime Minister, Helen Clark, was on the Holmes show and announced to the nation that the Government’s proposal was to put the foreshore and seabed into a “public domain” so that no one would own it. Paul Holmes then asked her the question. “Why on earth are you doing that? Why don’t you do just do the straightforward thing and put the ownership of those assets with the Crown?”

I found the Prime Minister’s response to that question extremely interesting. She said that to do that would be to unnecessarily inflame division in this country, because the Maori people would regard ownership being placed in the Crown as a win for the Crown and a loss for Maori – or words to that effect.

That was an entirely new thought for me. I have been reflecting on that, and I have come to see that, from a Maori perspective, there are two parties to the Treaty. One of those parties is Maori, and the other is now referred to as “the Crown”.

Therefore, if the Crown were to assume ownership of the foreshore and seabed, since Maori see the Crown as the other party to the Treaty, I can see that, from their point of view, the Crown becomes the winner and they the loser. However I don’t find the Government’s “public domain” solution, satisfying either. Deep down, I say “no” - the foreshore and the seabed belong to all of us as citizens of this country.

I grew up on the beach in Tasman Bay. There was nothing between the beach and our property except the Queen’s Chain. It was part of my inheritance to walk and play on to that beach and I feel, with all other New Zealander, a sense of ownership. The way forward, for me, needs to reflect that reality. So why not put these assets (and the contiguous Queen’s Chain) into a title in the name “We, the people of New Zealand, as guardians in perpetuity for ourselves and future generations.” I have used the word “guardians” building on the Maori philosophy of kaitiaki. Indeed, the words on the title could be in both English and Maori to make that clear.

I think an ownership title expressed in that way that would give this whole debate a very, very different perspective. It would make all of us owners and guardians for all future generations, without distinction on the basis of race, creed, and arrival time in New Zealand, or any other criteria. As in the United States “We, the people” might resonate with every citizen of this country.

Is it time to ditch the notion of “the Crown” and move forward?

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