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General Debate: Repealing Foreshore and Seabed Act

General Debate: Repealing the Foreshore and Seabed Act

Tariana Turia; Co-leader of the Maori Party

Wednesday 8 November 2006; 3.20pm

Tena tatou katoa

When we plot the path to nationhood, the events of June 2003 are etched in our memory.

For it was in June 2003, that a landmark ruling from the Court of Appeal confirmed that the Maori Land Court had jurisdiction to hear claims to territory below the high tide mark.

The Court of Appeal determined that the Crown had never passed legislation to unilaterally extinguish Maori customary ownership in the foreshore and seabed.

It found, without a doubt, that hapu and iwi could take cases to the Maori Land Court to verify the extent of their ownership.

The Judges ruled that Crown ownership was not completely certain and it was possible that a claim to a customary title could in some cases convert to a private title.

But it was also in June 2003, that as quick as a flash, the Government pounced in, righteously proclaiming a need to legislate to protect the foreshore and seabed supposedly, for “all New Zealanders”.

They went further to feign protest that all they were doing was to treat all New Zealanders in a fair and equal manner.

What part of ‘fairness’ can we understand for tangata whenua, a group of New Zealanders being denied their day in Court?

If it was fair and equal treatment they were looking for, why then, did the Waitangi Tribunal warn the Government that the Act breached human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, and English common law by doing so?

The Court of Appeal ruling would have allowed Maori to pursue claims to the foreshore and seabed through the courts. And Labour shut that down.

Labour's act of confiscation shut down any possibility of tangata whenua claiming customary title through the High Court - a right which had never been tested in a New Zealand court.

So who was meant by all New Zealanders?

It appears that all New Zealanders did not include those of Maori descent and other New Zealanders who attended the four national foreshore and seabed hui led by hapu and iwi, and who called for the right of access to the Court to be preserved.

All New Zealanders did not include the widespread community opposition, opposition which the National Council of Women returned to in their release last month, supporting the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

Despite the futile hope that the events of 2003 and 2004 are but a painful memory, the fact is that many New Zealanders are still hurting and grieving over the unilateral actions of a discriminatory Government regime.

Delegates of the National Council of Women last month emphasized that all New Zealanders feel a special connection with the land. So strong was their conviction, that their key recommendation from their annual conference was to support the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The Council recognised the Foreshore Act to be a case of discrimination against the human rights of tangata whenua and that there was an obligation to uphold human rights for all people.

The sad fact is, the divisive actions of the Labour Government campaign; the conflict caused by the ongoing attempts at mis-information and mis-representation, are still creating friction today.

I read recently a paper by Dr Maria Bargh in the New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences which must inform this House.

Dr Bargh, a Politics Lecturer had this to say about events since June 2003:

The foreshore and seabed legislation is not the only statute aimed specifically at removing Maori culture, rights, and property. This episode is part of a sad and sorry history and it is essential now that we change the game plan so that legislation is not used in such a manner in the future.

It is not too late to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act and to conduct ourselves in a manner which is respectful of human rights and which fosters positive race relations.

We must have the courage to listen to this young Maori academic; to listen to the Judiciary; to listen to the National Council of Women; to listen to the Waitangi Tribunal; to hapu and iwi; to listen, and to learn.

Polarised and political position-taking will not lead to nationhood.

Let us honour the responsibility of this Parliament, to bring the nation forward; to create the legal position that existed as a result of a Court of Appeal judgment in 2003.

Let us repeal Labour's Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 in its entirety, enabling hapu and iwi to approach the courts, if they so choose, and let us be strong in our resolve to take on a long term vision for Aotearoa.


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