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Dr Hugh Barr

Why we are running a Citizens Initiated Referendum against National’s Marine & Coastal Area Act

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Dr Muriel Newman and I, the co-founders of the Coastal Coalition, are leading a Citizens Initiated Referendum (CIR) on the question “Should the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011be replaced by legislation that restores Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed?” The question has two parts – repealing the Act, and replacing it with a new Act that restores Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed.

Our first step is to circulate a petition, and have at least 400,000 (10%) of voters sign it. If we can do this in the year allowed, then Government will then hold a non-binding referendum.

Background to the Act:

The foreshore and seabed is very large, containing all seabed out to 12 nautical miles (22.6 km). This is New Zealand’s territorial sea. The total area of the territorial sea is over 100,000 square kilometres, equal to 35% of New Zealand’s land area. It includes all our harbours and sounds. The total length of the foreshore is some 20,000 km.

In most countries, including New Zealand until 2003, the foreshore and seabed is considered a public common, with all the community as guardians and beneficiaries. In 2003 the Court of Appeal judges decided that foreshore and seabed was just like dry land, and so could be claimed by iwi, thus driving iwi to make claims.

Those who argue the foreshore and seabed are just like dry land don’t appear to understand Maori traditions. Continuous fires of occupation, ahi kaa, are necessary to assert iwi ownership on dry land. These are not possible on the foreshore or seabed. The god of the sea, Tangaroa, is different from the gods of the land, showing that, to Maori, the sea is a different jurisdiction.

To address this threatened break-up and privatisation of New Zealand’s hitherto Crown (public) ownership of the foreshore and seabed, the Labour Government passed the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act to confirm Crown ownership, while recognising iwi mana. See my book “The Gathering Storm over the Foreshore and Seabed” (October 2010), for more information.

Why Finlayson’s confiscatory Marine and Coastal Area Act needs repealing:

In June 2010, Prime Minister John Key gave the go-ahead for Chris Finlayson’s Act, which privatises our Crown-owned foreshore and seabed racially to iwi groups. Finlayson kept secret that the vast majority (77%) of public submitters, from the preceding April public consultation, opposed repeal of Labour’s 2004 Act.

Finlayson also kept secret that an even greater 91% of submitters opposed privatisation of the foreshore and seabed racially to Maori tribal groups. This information was held secret until late October 2010, seven months after the consultation. Its release was only because of a Coastal Coalition Official Information request, and after Finlayson’s Bill had been introduced to Parliament. This epitomises Finlayson’s perversion of the democratic process for his own political ends.

Finlayson, a list MP, has been defeated on both occasions when he stood in an electorate seat. He is very close to iwi, who paid him large fees as a lawyer to pursue their claims against the Crown.

There are many reasons why Finlayson’s Marine and Coastal Area Act must be repealed. It clearly does not guarantee free public access over the beaches, in spite of National’s claims. An iwi group can declare wahi tapu areas, from which the public is prohibited, anywhere where the group is awarded ownership. Finlayson’s Act even encourages wahi tapu to be declared over good fishing places, so as to exclude non-iwi anglers. Patrols will be carried out by iwi wardens. Fines of up to $5,000 can be imposed on any member of the public travelling through wahi tapu areas.

Furthermore, tribal groups who gain customary title receive sole exploitation rights to their areas, including exclusive rights to new aquaculture developments, vetoes on some infrastructure, and rights to exploit minerals, including trillions of dollars worth of marine iron-sands.

Tribes do not have to go to court to gain customary title. They can negotiate secretly with the Minister, and then have whatever is agreed ratified by an Act of Parliament. So there is no need for proof, only that the Government has a majority in Parliament to pass the Act. The public cannot appeal against any corruption of this process.

New Zealand’s territorial sea was extended from three to twelve nautical miles (22.2 km) only in 1977. So even in the highly unlikely event that tribal ownership existed in 1840, it would have stretched out only three nautical miles, one quarter of its present area.

Finlayson’s thieving and racist Act finally passed by a mere four votes. Had only two Government MPs changed their vote, it would have failed. Coastal Coalition supporters e-mailed all National MPs and Peter Dunne often to ensure they understood what the public would lose. However, neither the 58 National MPs nor Peter Dunne heeded their arguments. So the Act passed, and the MPs meekly followed Finlayson’s orders.

All Labour, ACT and Green MPs voted against the Act. New Zealand First also strongly opposes it, and played a central role in helping Labour pass the original 2004 Act.

If National does not get voted back as the government, then the chances of the Coastal Coalition’s CIR being implemented will be greatly improved. So your Election Day vote is as important as the referendum.

Many claims are being lodged:

Already four iwi groups have announced foreshore and seabed claims under Finlayson’s Act. These claims include the coastal icons Ninety Mile Beach, and the Kaipara Harbour. The Coastal Coalition will list these and further announced claims on our website www.CoastalCoalition.co.nz.

Finlayson has cynically postponed addressing these claims until after the Election. It is almost certain he will approve them if National is re-elected.

We need your help for the Petition:

Collecting the 400,000 petition signatures is a daunting logistical task. This is why we urge all the tens of thousands who signed up to support the Coastal Coalition, to help us as much as possible. And please ask all others who don’t want the foreshore and seabed racially privatised. Please register your interest on our website www.CoastalCoalition.co.nz.

Petition forms are available for download from the Coastal Coalition website. We would greatly appreciate your help in gathering signatures. There will be additional updated information on our website about the petition, the Act and other relevant matters.

Other racist surprises:

The Marine and Coastal Area Act is just one case of National’s legislation favouring iwi and Maori. These are the result of incessant demands by iwi for dictatorial powers over the rest of the community. The recently released Waitangi Tribunal’s Wai 262 “Flora and Fauna” claim report accelerates this trend. The Tribunal proposes “co-management” of public conservation lands by iwi, and “co-management” of the nation with twenty Government departments.

There are un-elected Iwi committees and councillors on the Auckland Council, and other local bodies. National has given in to Maori Party demands for a constitutional review, that will undermine New Zealand’s traditional democracy by proposing greater powers for un-elected iwi groups.

Key says he is “impressed” with the “Iwi Leaders Group”. They are smooth talkers and appear able to twist him round their little finger. He is too inexperienced, and totally dependent on Christopher Finlayson to resist iwi demands, thereby turning non-iwi New Zealanders into second class citizens.


These are some of the many reasons why National’s Marine and Coastal Area Act needs to be repealed. Please help us, the Coastal Coalition, with our CIR, and help restore the foreshore and seabed to full Crown ownership, so that we can all be guardians and beneficiaries of this important area, instead of just iwi.