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Government In Hopeless Position

Government In Hopeless Position

Friday 27 Jun 2003 Richard Prebble Press Releases -- Treaty of Waitangi & Maori Affairs

ACT New Zealand Leader Richard Prebble said today that the Maori claim to the seabed and foreshores is an issue that has the Labour Government caught between a rock on the foreshore, and a hard place on the seabed.

"Labour's reaction to the Appeal Court's decision that the Maori Land Court has jurisdiction to hear Maori seabed claims is poll driven. Labour's own polling shows that its already voters disagree with its race-based funding policies, and the electorate's affection for the beach and open sea is very strong. Hence Prime Minister Helen Clark's statement on Monday that the Government would legislate to end any Maori claims to the foreshore or seabed," said Mr Prebble.

"To deprive citizens of their right to go to court is a very serious matter. In a free society, everyone - Maori and non-Maori - should be able to take an issue to the nation's court. So Labour has lost constitutional authority.

"If Labour was claiming that the foreshore in 2003 belongs to everyone, that's a defendable position. It's what the Appeal Court said in 1960, and what Parliament thought was the law for 150 years.

"Labour could say the foreshore, like the Queen's Chain, belongs to us all and no claim will be considered. But that's not Labour's position - they're looking for middle ground where none exists. Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson are saying no to ownership, but yes to customary access and use.

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"As the Appeal Court judges make clear, customary access and use rights are ownership rights. Use and access rights are of no value unless they are exclusive.

"The Crown has agreed to negotiate customary rights to the seabed and foreshore with Maori, while pretending that the Government is not negotiating ownership to the foreshore. It's a recipe for disaster.

"As the Court can't hear the claims, no one - Maori, Government, fishermen, marine farmers, or the public - has any idea what Maori rights are.

"The Appeal Court did not find in favour of any ownership rights, just that the matter could be litigated.

"The 1992 Maori Fisheries Settlement was full and final - there may be no Maori rights to any fish. Common law customary rights are `use it or lose it'. Maori have not used seabed or foreshore rights for over 150 years. The courts may well decide there are no iwi rights to the foreshore in 2003.

"Ministers, by agreeing to negotiate, are agreeing to Maori ownership claims that may have no validity. By not allowing the ownership question to be settled, the claim turns from a property claim to a racial issue. That is exactly what happened to the Maori fishing claim. It is a hopeless position that cannot satisfy anyone or resolve the claims," Mr Prebble said.

For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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