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UF withdraws support for foreshore legislation

For immediate release

Wednesday, 7 April 2004

UF withdraws support for foreshore legislation

United Future leader, Peter Dunne, says he regrets that the Labour Government’s inability to control its own caucus members has forced it into making major last-minute changes to the proposed foreshore and seabed legislation.

“The removal of the concept of public domain, or ownership, from the legislation means that United Future can no longer support the legislation,” he said today.

“United Future has consistently argued for public ownership in order to prevent future governments from deciding to sell off or give away parts of the foreshore and seabed.

“We know that Labour would have retained that wording in the legislation if it had not been for the dishonourable behaviour of three members of its own caucus.

“The government may be able to pass the legislation with the support of New Zealand First, but Mr Peters has demonstrated in the past that he is incapable of bringing stability to the Government of New Zealand, unlike United Future, which has adhered consistently and fairly to the terms and spirit of its confidence and supply agreement with the Government,” said Mr Dunne.


Attached: Dunne letter to the Prime Minister

7 April 2004

Right Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Dear Helen

Foreshore & Seabed Bill

At its meeting on 30 March 2004 the United Future Caucus received a full briefing from me on the Government’s latest plans for the above legislation. I advised the Caucus of the Government’s intentions with regard to the purpose clause of the proposed legislation to vest ownership of the foreshore and seabed in the Crown as public domain for the people of New Zealand and of the revised procedures for the recognition of customary rights, and the new role proposed for the High Court. On the basis of that report, the Caucus agreed in principle to support the introduction of the legislation, subject to sighting a draft Bill to give effect to those understandings.

On 6 April, I presented the draft Bill to my colleagues who, after a further detailed discussion, resolved to support the introduction of the legislation as drafted. I made a public statement at the conclusion of the Caucus announcing that decision.

Subsequently, I became aware of the objections of New Zealand First to the concept of the “public domain” and of Mr Peters’ insistence to Dr Cullen that these words be omitted from the purpose clause of the legislation before New Zealand First would support its introduction. I am well aware of the Government’s internal tensions on this Bill and the delicacy of its numbers and the relevance of New Zealand First in this regard.

As you will be aware, United Future has consistently argued for the public domain concept since we began our discussions with you on this issue in around August last year. Since that time, as the Government’s policy response has developed, we have been the only party to consistently give support to the position you have been advancing, probably to some significant political cost. We have worked constructively and in good faith with you, as befits our confidence and supply agreement, to reach a workable solution, because we believe the issue is far too important either to be left to languish or to be hi-jacked by an extreme solution. We consider that Dr Cullen’s discussions with us have demonstrated equal good faith and constructiveness. New Zealand First, by contrast, has shown no interest in the issue until very recently, and is only responding the way it is now out of a sense of political expediency because of the precarious nature of the Government’s numbers.

The concept of public domain has been central to our approach to give the greatest degree of certainty possible to New Zealanders that the ownership of the foreshore and seabed rests with all of them without exclusivity. I accept the argument regarding the legal force of the term, but regard that as secondary to its symbolic significance. This is not about importing some fancy American term into our legislation as Mr Peters alleges, but rather, as you know, is all about providing the maximum level of certainty to wary New Zealanders. Our concern has always been that the concept of Crown ownership by itself is too limiting as it leaves open the possibility at some future point of the Crown, for whatever reason, deciding arbitrarily to dispose of its ownership interest. Recognition of the concept of public domain – which you yourself acknowledged at one of our earlier discussions had some parallel in the old English common law notion of the “common” – has the important symbolic effect of adding an additional factor to the concept of the ownership of the foreshore and seabed that no future Government would be likely to tamper with. In this regard, it is significant that according to the recent Colmar Brunton poll this notion enjoys the support of around 70% of New Zealanders.

Throughout this debate United Future’s overriding interest has been the development of a solution that is acceptable to and seen as credible by the largest possible group of New Zealanders. We have not been backward in arguing for and defending that position at times when the far easier course of action would have been to have left it all to the Government to sort out, because we believed that this was an issue that transcended normal party politics. It is why we urged you late last year to have discussions with the National Party to explore the possibility of a durable multi Party solution (a course of action we still consider is worth pursuing). It is also why we believe so strongly that the position set out in the draft Bill which we saw on 6 April is the right one and why we were prepared to give our support to that legislation.

New Zealand First’s response in the last 24 hours contains none of these elements. In our view, it is driven by shallow opportunism based solely on the Government’s numbers problem. Reliance on that Party’s support is certainly no basis on which you can proceed with any confidence about the future of this legislation at any future stage. A better way would be for the Government to declare that the introduction of the legislation would be treated as a confidence issue for its own members.

Accordingly, I have to advise you now that United Future will not be able to support the Foreshore and Seabed Bill if the reference to the public domain is deleted. However, we would have no difficulty with the Government indicating it was prepared to have the select committee examine the issue with a view to determining if there is a better way of expressing the sentiment behind it.


Yours sincerely

Hon Peter Dunne
Leader, United Future

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