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Collins Comments 12 May 2004

Collins Comments 12 May 2004

By Judith Collins

The Foreshore and Seabed Bill

The Foreshore and Seabed Bill has turned into a huge mess for the Government. The decision of the Court of Appeal was essentially that Maori could bring claims in the Maori Land Court as to ownership of the seabed and foreshore. Instead of lodging an appeal with the Privy Council - which the Government would have been expected to do - it couldn't bring itself to do so. Having brought in legislation to get rid of the Privy Council, the Government decided to tough it out. Since then there have been at least 5 different policies from Labour on this issue. The Government's initial reaction that the Crown does and will continue to own the foreshore and seabed was right. Unfortunately for New Zealand, the Government backed down and ended up in a precarious deal with NZ First, which pleases no one.

Will NZ First stick with the Government on this? I wonder. Already, there were indications last week, on the first reading of the Bill, that NZ First was having second thoughts.

What else could Labour have done? The sensible thing would have been to have talked to National last year when the issue first arose. Unfortunately, Labour lost the opportunity to show leadership on this issue and instead embarked on a round of hui with iwi. The hui clearly did not have the desired effect and in the meantime, the vast majority of New Zealanders including Maori not invited to the hui, felt slighted and left out of the equation.

Should the Prime Minister have met the hikoi? I believe so. By failing to do so, by talking to a sheep in preference to 20,000 people, and by condemning those involved as haters and wreckers, an opportunity to show statesmanship was lost. By telling Maori one thing and the rest of New Zealand another, this government has encouraged a sense of grievance that will not easily be overcome. So, at this stage, Crown ownership is to be maintained with customary rights and "ancestral connections" able to be claimed giving what has been described as a virtual veto right over any development including marine farming.

Customary right to an area of the foreshore or seabed can be claimed by both Maori and non-Maori. However, the criteria to qualify for a customary right is such that only Maori are likely to qualify. Ancestral connection to an area of the foreshore or seabed can be claimed by iwi through the Maori Land Court. What right do non-Maori have to appear in the Maori Land Court to oppose the claim? Absolutely none. The Maori Land Court is for Maori only.

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