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"Newman Online"

Weekly commentary by Dr Muriel Newman MP

Newman On-Line: Foreshore And Seabed Consequences Could Be Huge

This Week, Newman On-line looks at implications for New Zealand as a result of the passing of the Foreshore and Seabed Bill into law.

This week the Government passed the Foreshore and Seabed Bill into law. This legislation will fundamentally change the relationship that New Zealanders have with our beaches and the sea. Since the Bill does not come into force until 17 January 2005, this summer will be the last holiday season where things down on the beach will be the same as they've always been.

This Christmas we will be free to go to the beach, stay in our batch, build our sand castles, go swimming, buggy-boarding, kayaking, and fishing, without having to pay anyone or ask for permission.

But, over time, much of that is likely to change.

The new law provides for Maori to claim customary rights over the foreshore and seabed. While customary rights will only lead to a freehold title if a special Act of Parliament is passed, these rights will undoubtedly have a similar effect through the creation of Maori reserves and management rights. As a result, control over properties and resources that have traditionally belonged to all New Zealanders will be passed over to Maori.

As defined in the Bill, the “foreshore and seabed” includes not only the beaches, seabed, and the river beds that are part of the coastal marine area, but also the sea out to our territorial limits. It also includes the “air space above” as well as the “subsoil, bedrock, and other matters below”.

It was only last month that a row arose over local Maori wanting to charge for the use of the air space above Lake Taupo. In the furore that followed it became clear that the move would have covered floatplane landings, bungee jumping, bridges over rivers, and the hole-in-one golf. Speculation was rife that charges would be laid for boat ramps, marina berths, moorings and the like.

While that issue is presently under negotiation between Maori and the Crown, it now appears that it has been the intention of the Government to railroad through the gifting of the management of the ‘air space’ areas above the sea to any Iwi who can prove that they have a customary right.

This outrageous development will enable Maori to claim royalties for planes, helicopters, hot air balloons and the like, disadvantaging the majority of New Zealanders who have always had free access to this common resource.

But it probably won’t stop there. It is highly likely that the inclusion of the ‘subsoil, bedrock, and other matters’ below the seabed in the Bill will lead to claims for royalties on oil and gas reserves. While the Prime Minister reassured New Zealanders last May that Maori claims for oil and gas reserves would not be considered, it now appears that Labour is passing them into Maori control through the backdoor.

Under the foreshore and seabed legislation, it appears that any Maori who can establish customary rights over an area that produces oil and gas will be entitled to management rights. That exposes the Prime Minister's reassurance that they would be protected in the common good as hollow words, and opens up the opportunity for Maori to pursue royalty payments worth billions of dollars.

The Foreshore and Seabed Bill effectively expands the Resource Management Act. Yet the RMA is one of the most problematic pieces of legislation on New Zealand's statute books and has been held up as the single most important barrier to progress and development within New Zealand.

So rather than sort out the RMA for the good of New Zealand’s future, the Labour Government has chosen to expand its web of failings and complexities.

Take the case of wahi tapu, which the Foreshore and Seabed Bill protects under threat of access restriction, police intervention or a fine of up to $5,000. In the debate in the House, Labour MPs claimed that the seabed and foreshore contained many Maori burial grounds that needed special recognition and protection. They explained that wave movements over these burial grounds have mixed blood and bone creating sand that was wähi tapu and in need of protection.

This problematic issue has already come to public attention two years ago when an Auckland community board wanted to bring sand by barge from the Coromandel to replenish a rocky part of their North Shore beach. The proposal was met with opposition from local Maori who claimed that it was culturally unacceptable to mix sand from one area to another.

Last year the issue arose again, this time over Maori opposition to a plan to take sand from the Kaipara district to replenish Auckland's Kohimarama beach.

When will it end? The whole situation over Maori claims, wahi tapu and the like has already got completely out of control, yet Labour, through this Foreshore and Seabed Bill, will not only enshrine this nonsense and make the situation much worse, but will also turn New Zealand into an international laughing stock.

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