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Brash: Foreshore and Seabed Bill Third Reading

Thu, 18 Nov 2004

Dr Don Brash MP - Leader of the Opposition

Speech to the House in the third reading debate on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill

18 November 2004

And so we come to the third reading of this Bill - one of the most fateful pieces of legislation ever to be debated in this House.

When the Court of Appeal decision was announced in the middle of last year, it over-turned what had been settled law for decades - settled law which had all New Zealanders, Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Islanders and Asians, all New Zealanders, owning the foreshore and the seabed.

What should the Government have done?

Well, their initial reaction was about right - they said they would legislate to ensure that the situation which we had all assumed was the case continued to be the case.

As even Chris Trotter said on Willie Jackson's programme on TV1 on Tuesday night, Labour should have crossed the floor of the House and asked National to support legislation to maintain what we had all thought was the status quo. And I have no doubt that the National Party would have agreed to do exactly that.

Had the Government done that, all the drama, all the anguish, all the false expectations, all the hikoi and demonstrations, all the anger would have been avoided - because the Government would have moved quickly to re-establish what everybody thought was the situation in any case.

What did they actually do?

They embarked on a fundamentally dishonest process - they gave the appearance of listening to the public, of legislating for Crown ownership, of providing strictly limited rights over the foreshore and seabed to Maori New Zealanders, of adjusting their proposal in the light of submissions, but in reality changing nothing of substance.

They embarked on a process which involved endless hui with Maori, long hearings at the Select Committee stage, further debate and consultation - and now an unseemly, cynical and rushed process under urgency to get the legislation passed quickly before there is too much public attention, to get it out of the way before Christmas, and well before the election campaign.

And it has been a process involving secret deals and backroom agreements with anybody and everybody, both to secure sufficient parliamentary support and to ensure buy-in from Maori, whose expectations they cruelly raised.

* So we see last-minute compromises with other political parties - public domain to Crown ownership; ancestral connection in, ancestral connection out. * We hear hints of secret assurances of special treatment for Tainui in order to secure Nanaia Mahuta's continued loyalty to Labour. * We see evidence that Labour has entered parallel negotiations with at least four iwi, aimed at recognising "ownership interests".

And at the end of this process, what do we have?

A fundamentally flawed piece of legislation that will divide Maori New Zealanders from other New Zealanders for generations to come.

Yes, superficially, we have Crown ownership asserted over the foreshore and the seabed. Yes, superficially, the legislation provides for the ownership of the foreshore and seabed by all New Zealanders.

And if that was the reality, the National Party would be supporting this Bill.

But it is not the reality. Crown ownership is so heavily qualified as to be meaningless.

To take just one example: "Ancestral connection" has been dropped from the Bill, but the Government has made it clear that ancestral connection orders will be addressed in the Government's review of the Resource Management Act.

And Labour's Maori caucus said on Tuesday that the new plans "will provide stronger recognition of the traditional association of whanau, hapu and iwi with the coast than the ancestral connection orders initially provided for in the legislation."

And the Government is making it explicitly clear that they retain the right to hand over the ownership of parts of the foreshore and seabed in the context of Treaty settlements - exactly as they did with the Rotorua lakes and Te Arawa last month.

The passage of this Bill will mark the beginning of a process whereby control of large tracts of the New Zealand foreshore - the birthright of all New Zealand citizens - will be handed over to small groups of unelected, undemocratic, tribal elites, to people who can claim some Maori ancestry - and often a very small amount of Maori ancestry.

The Bill is the result of a Labour Government desperate to persuade Maori New Zealanders that they can have a significant and ongoing involvement in the control of the foreshore and seabed, while trying to convince other New Zealanders that all of us retain ownership of the foreshore and the seabed.

And which party has made it possible for the Government to produce this result? New Zealand First.

What an extraordinary name for a party which has sold New Zealand and New Zealanders down the river - sold us into a world of increased racial tension, of division and dissent - through signing up to this sordid deal. Both Labour and New Zealand First have shown their true colours when it comes to Treaty issues. They are willing to appease radical Maori at the expense of all New Zealanders.

The National Party wants to see all New Zealanders - all New Zealanders - Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Islanders, Asians, old people and young, men and women - all New Zealanders - treated as equal before the law, with the foreshore and seabed owned by all of us, not by people who chance to have one Maori ancestor.

And so, Mr Speaker, what we have seen is an inept response from the Government to a controversial decision by our courts.

We have seen no leadership on this issue, just a Prime Minister blowing in the political wind.

We have seen no backbone, no leadership, when that is precisely what was required to bring New Zealand forward as a confident, united, society where fundamental rights are shared - and what could be more fundamental than the public ownership of our foreshore.

The rights of all New Zealanders are being taken so that a range of people of part-Maori ancestry - and often a very small part indeed - can lay claim to what should be the birthright of all New Zealand citizens.

National is absolutely and totally opposed to that.

The story of this Parliament's management of Treaty of Waitangi matters over recent decades has been a saga of neglect, and the shirking of responsibility.

The important task of spelling out the rights of New Zealand citizens in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi has been avoided, or even worse, the subject of direct abdication to the Courts.

The Foreshore and Seabed Bill, which now receives its third reading, continues and exacerbates that sad legacy.

Yet again, this Parliament has decided that the rights of New Zealanders under the laws of the land are to be placed in the "too hard" basket, and that our courts will be given explicit powers to determine that one group of New Zealanders is more equal than another.

Mr Speaker, in less than 12 months time, New Zealanders will have an opportunity to elect a government which will insist that Parliament, and not the courts, will determine the framework of our laws, especially as they affect our fundamental rights as citizens.

They will have an opportunity to elect a government which will insist that the laws passed by Parliament will be based on the principle that all New Zealanders, regardless of race, are equal before the law.

And they will have an opportunity to ensure that fatally flawed, unprincipled, unfair legislation, like this Foreshore and Seabed Bill, will never again darken the chamber of this Parliament.

ENDS

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