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Loss Of Public Domain Threatens Public Ownership

Wednesday April 7, 2004


Loss Of ‘Public Domain’ Threatens The Safety Of Public Ownership Of The Foreshore And Seabed

The Government’s last minute compromise with New Zealand First has now left the question open about what is to be the final purpose for which foreshore and seabed will be held under Crown ownership Fish & Game New Zealand said today, after a preliminary reading of the Government’s proposed legislation.

“The Government has dropped the wording ‘public domain’ as a caveat on Crown ownership and replaced it with ‘…vested in the Crown in perpetuity for the people of New Zealand.’ This qualifier does not have the moral force of ‘public domain’ and it is open to interpretation and manipulation by a future government,” says Bryce Johnson, Director of Fish & Game New Zealand.

“Who decides what ‘for the people of New Zealand’ is? It will be the Government of the day responding to the politics of the time.”

“ ‘Public Domain’ would provide the ultimate definition of the purpose for which the foreshore and seabed is to be held. Simply saying it is ‘ for the people of New Zealand’ can mean anything and does not define its purpose.”

“Our principal concern with this issue was that foreshore and seabed needs to be put beyond just ‘Crown’ ownership’ because what the Crown owns can be given away. We sought a ‘tag’ on Crown ownership which would put it safely in public hands forever.”

“Simple ‘Crown Ownership’ even for the ‘people of New Zealand’ provides no guarantee of protection for public use and enjoyment. Crown land has been sold, leased, and given away in Treaty Settlements. Ngai Tahu, for instance, received the bed of Lake Ellesmere, three high country stations owned by the Crown, and some mutton bird islands. Te Arawa are likely to be given the beds of the Rotorua Lakes.”

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“The concept of the ‘public domain vested in perpetuity in the people of New Zealand’ is a very sound, fair, and bullet proof way of unambiguously putting our beaches way beyond any future Government who could otherwise use them as an asset to be given or traded away .”

“The difference between the words ‘Crown’ and ‘public domain’ are not a matter of semantics but a critical constitutional point.”

“The ultimate test will be the wording of the Bill, and in particular the extent to which it unambiguously defines the purpose for which the foreshore and seabed is held.”


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