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ACT's The Letter -15 September 2003


15 September 2003


The big concern facing the government is how to resolve the foreshore issue that has the potential to bring down the government and split race relations.


ACT's Stephen Franks has brought down on himself the wrath of the establishment by asking why Chief Justice Sian Elias did not disqualify herself from the foreshore case. It transpires that the Chief Justice as a lawyer acted in a Maori claim for the bed of the Manukau harbour. She lost that case when the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that the Crown's ownership of the seabed was well-established law. As Chief Justice she has basically rerun her earlier case, overturned a 40-year-old Court of Appeal case decision and rewritten the law, ignoring the effects on parliamentary statute law that had relied on the earlier decision. It is very rare for the Court of Appeal to overturn a previous Court of Appeal decision. The convention is that it is for parliament to rewrite the law not the court. It may well be that the 1963 decision was wrong. There are many court decisions that if heard today would be differently decided. Judges leave that to parliament. If unelected judges are going to overturn accepted law, NZ is ungovernable. Maori, as any politician could have told the court, have not heard the Chief Justice's comment that the Maori claim was likely to fail. All they have heard is that they own the foreshore. The Attorney-General Margaret Wilson has admitted the Crown did not expect this decision. Stephen Franks raises a good point; the Crown could ask for a retrial on the grounds of possible bias. He raises an even better point; what will a Sian Elias Supreme Court be like? Are we wise to abandon the Privy Council? See Stephen Franks' statements on

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Labour now wishes it had not agreed to eleven hui with Maori. The time taken is enormous. The marae are rural. Michael Cullen is grossly overworked. At the same time as he spends four hours travelling and four hours hui-ing he must tackle urgent issues like the Air NZ/Qantas decision.


There is no dialogue at the hui. The government view is the foreshore and seabed are owned by the nation for everyone and the government has the right to determine the issue. Maori view is quite different. In essence - that in 1840 Maori owned the entire foreshore and the entire seabed. Treaty Article II guarantees Maori its undisturbed ownership. The Crown role is to protect Maori ownership. Maori claim not to be interested in co-management saying that they are quite capable of managing the foreshore themselves. They see the government proposals as another land grab.


Two more top quality speakers will present at ACT's conference on the foreshore issue:

1) Owen McShane, a leading thinker in property rights, environmental issues, and regulation. Owen will analyse Labour's proposals.

2) Hon Michael Bassett, NZ's greatest local body reformer and historian on the issues for local government.

ACT expects this conference to be a sell out. Register at


Labour's own polling indicates that Winston Peters is even more of a threat to Labour's hold on the Maori seats than the recent resurge in Maori support shows. Helen Clark offered Derek Fox the top job in Maori TV to buy off his party. The Letter has heard Labour Ministers wondering what it would take to buy off Peters - Governor-General?


On Sunday the United party took a pounding from its base in the fundamentalist churches - the Gambling Bill that legalised Internet gambling and note-taking poker machines passed on vote from United's "pro-family" MPs. United's MPs, leaderless, as Peter Dunne has vamoosed to Mexico with Jim Sutton, looked shaken and confused as to how they came to be supporting extending gambling.


As MPs like United's Judy Turner tell it, it's all a mistake. The United party put up, as a price of their support, a series of unacceptable amendments. To United's surprise the Labour government accepted all of their amendments so the party found itself supporting gambling.


The Gambling Bill illustrates the real split in the party between Peter Dunne's United and the Christian Democrats' Future party. Peter Dunne, a Catholic, has no moral objection to gambling. The Future MPs do believe gambling is a sin. Peter Dunne, being ex-Labour was well aware that George Hawkins would welcome United's proposed amendments. The Left and the Greens want the proceeds of gambling to go to "social" causes under the control of civil servants. George Hawkins wants the proceeds of poker machines to continue to go to support local sports teams etc. Dunne and Hawkins colluded on the amendments but it appears that Peter Dunne failed to tell his MPs.


MPs who know Peter Dunne do not believe he can hold his party together. United MPs like Marc Alexander have views closer to ACT than Labour. The caucus, with the exception of the ever-flexible Dunne, are parliament's most conservative. It is really astonishing that the pro-family, pro-God party is supporting the anti-family, godless Labour government. Labour strategists do not expect it to last and believe that Labour's long-term coalition partner is the Greens.


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