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Hon. Dr Michael Cullen on the Foreshore

Hon. Dr Michael Cullen on the Foreshore. 23rd October 2003.

You’ve got a timetable for that now.

It is a preferred timetable. We’re not committed rigidly to a timetable because we believe that discussions with claimant groups and with recreational groups will mean that we’re in a position to release a full, detailed policy position well this side of Xmas in December. A lot of work has gone on. We’re in a position, despite what may have been the impression from Monday’s efforts at the tribunal, to finalise details very rapidly if we chose to do so but we’re in a consultation. What the tribunal and claimants have been looking for is some form of understanding around when legislation would flow from that and so I’ve approved our counsel stating clearly that on the basis of that preferred timetable we wouldn’t be introducing legislation before the 23rd of Feb for 1st reading on 26th Feb at the very earliest.

We also suggested that the tribunal could proceed to consider the issue of what Maori customary interests may be in foreshore and seabed on its original timetable if it chooses to do so because that part of its investigation is not dependent upon the govt’s own policy proposals and the tribunal has significant expertise in those areas. So from the govt’s perspective, it would be quite useful if we were able to receive advice on that at least before the finalisation of legislation.

For the second part of the hearing, the policy part, would that be early Feb or Jan?

I see no reason why it shouldn’t be done in Jan with a report in Feb before legislation is finalised. But don’t forget such a report is recommendatory. At the end of the day this matter is going to be settled in Parliament and Parliament is sovereign and we have to have a majority in Parliament and most other parties want to reassert Crown ownership and to severely restrict customary rights. So we don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre.

What does the govt need more time to do?

Consult. We don’t need more time to formulate great details of policy. We are well advanced on policy but we want to consult with claimant groups. You will notice that there’s a hui to be held in the very near future in Rotorua. There are a number of suggestions in there which are not that far away from where the govt’s thinking is considering where the original statements of position were. For example, one of the major group’s document recognises that the Crown holds fee simple title which is actually quite a significant advance on statements which were made at the various hui around the country.

Is this an acknowledgment that the original consultation period was too short? No not at all. A lot of people want to talk to us directly. We have individual iwi saying they want to talk to us directly rather than being part of some other process or some broader working process across the board. They want to speak individually to us. Now we’d be silly to say “no, we won’t have those discussions, we will rush ahead at this point.” There is no need to do so. Nobody’s access rights are threatened at this point. One issue as we’ve said is that we would be hoping to get some consensus around an approach to the Maori Land Court to adjourn any consideration of the applications in front of it now because, as we said right from the start of the initial policy proposals, we do need to be clear that the current applications need to be dealt with within the new framework otherwise we have the capacity for totally contradictory outcomes.

Are you taking another look at the concept of public domain?

No. I think you will find that when the final proposals emerge, the concept of public domain remains intact. As I said earlier, there is always a way one uses words. I don’t want to go any further than that because we’re in a consultation process and I’m not revealing the details of what we’re consulting around at the present time.

So you’ll consult with any iwi that wants to talk to you?

To the best we can, yes. Certainly when we have very large iwi like Ngati Porou saying they want to talk to us directly, we’re not going to say no.

If the tribunal wants the hearing to go ahead in early Nov, will you participate?

We’ll participate to the best of our ability but the govt’s timetable can’t be driven by the tribunal’s timetable. The tribunal is an advisory body that makes recommendations and certainly I don’t think the tribunal is the place to try to engage in an attempt if you like at mediation and negotiation. For a whole range of reasons, that would be a very strong extension of the tribunal’s scope and contradictory to its current powers. But also it would ignore the fact that this isn’t simply a Crown-Maori issue, something I have to occasionally remind people about. 85% of the population who are not Maori also have an interest in this issue.

Are you saying the tribunal is acting above its station?

I wouldn’t put it that way. I think there have been ideas about extending its role in a way which I don’t think would be entirely consistent with its role as a body which considers the evidence and makes recommendations. I think if you mix that up with negotiation, then you tend to get yourself into a conflicted position.

You’re saying the tribunal might reconvene in Jan. When do you think it is realistic to expect them to consider the issue given the Xmas break?

Xmas is over by Jan.

When do you think the tribunal could reconvene?

That is for them to decide. What we’re saying is that this issue can’t be allowed to drag on because if the govt’s to commit itself to a reasonable timetable around select committee hearings….and I really get very angry when I hear anybody of any sort suggest that the select committee process is some kind of façade. Anybody who has been around this place for any length of time knows that select committee processes are real processes of consultation with submitters. That is going to take some months. It may well take the full 6 months that select committees are allowed as a matter of norm to consider bills. So if we end up with a timetable which pushes the bill out to April or even May and then the select committee has its full role to play in terms of hearings and then you have to get the bill passed, there is a very serious risk that the bill doesn’t get passed until 2005. Now actually nobody wants that. The claimant groups don’t want it to drag on indefinitely either so we can’t have a timetable which leaves us up in the air forever. We have shifted quite a long way to accommodate the desires of the tribunal and therefore we hope they will realise that we’re genuine about that, we’re genuine about the processes of consultation that we are engaged in but determined to seek a resolution which is consistent with the principles that we’ve already outlined.

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