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Dr Hugh Barr

When will iwi and Finlayson start taking our beaches?

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Rumours continue to circulate about sweet deals that Public Foreshore Seabed Minister Christopher Finlayson is doing in secret with coastal iwi, especially in Northland on Ninety Mile Beach, one of our most iconic beaches.

The Coastal Coalition was set up in May 2010 to support public (ie Crown) ownership of New Zealand’s foreshore and seabed, for all New Zealanders. But John Key with Maori Party support, passed the Marine and Coastal Area (MCA) Act last April. This removes Crown ownership, and allows iwi Customary Marine Title, in spite of 90 percent of public submissions opposing it. This was even though Key had said that, if there wasn’t broad agreement, the legislation would not proceed. It’s a pity many people back then considered him honourable, and took him at his word.

By May 2011, many iwi were talking loudly of claiming their foreshore and seabed. The Coastal Coalition asked under the Official Information Act, for the areas that tribal groups were claiming. Three iwi had lodged claims – Te Raroa – the lower half of Ninety Mile Beach and the coast from Ahipara to Hokianga Harbour, including Herekino and Wangape harbours, and the northern side of the Hokianga Ngati Porou ki Hauraki – Kennedy Bay south past Whangamata, east Coromandel Ngati Pahauwera – claims in coastal northern Hawke’s Bay

This immediately led the Minister Chris Finlayson, the architect of the Act, to discourage the likely flood of claims, saying no claims would be dealt with before the November Election. The gold-rush of iwi claims temporarily stopped.

However, there are twelve claims from the 2004 Act, which are being taken through the High Court. These include Ngati Porou’s claims to East Coast foreshore and seabed, including wahi tapu. We are still seeking information through the Official Information Act, as to all the claims that have now been lodged.

In July 2011 the Coastal Coalition launched a Citizens’ Initiated Referendum (CIR) to repeal the racist MCA Act, and return our foreshore and seabed to full public (Crown) ownership. The first step of this CIR, is to collect the signatures of voters, who oppose the Act. If over 10percent of voters sign by July, then a national referendum will be held, so the public can show its preference.

All voters who oppose this unjust Act, should urgently sign the CIR Petition, and encourage others to do so.

The public have not fully recognised the seriousness of the MCA Act. It covers a very large area, the whole of the territorial sea, namely out to 22 km from the nearest shore. This sea area equals 35 percent of New Zealand’s land area, and covers an enormous 105,000 square km.

Customary Marine Title will give exclusive rights to successful tribal claimants to set up wahi tapu – areas where the public is forbidden from going, and can be convicted and fined up to $5,000 if they do. The tribe is allowed to appoint its own wardens to patrol these areas. As well, fisheries officers will patrol them and will prosecute any people not authorised by the tribe to fish there. Wahi tapu are being discussed on Ninety Mile Beach, to at least cover shellfish beds and good fishing spots.

As well the iwi owners gain sole rights to control aquaculture, minerals and most facilities in their customary title area. They can impose additional iwi charges for using such facilities.

Taking ownership away from the public is equally disadvantageous for Maori. Where coasts are privatised, Maori that are not in the privatising tribal group, will also be excluded from wahi tapu areas, just as non-Maori New Zealanders will be. Maori Supremacists see this law as the first step to them owning all of the foreshore and seabed.

Until this National Party Act, last year, the Foreshore and Seabed had been publicly owned since 1840. British law from 1840 on, prohibited cannibalism, and slavery, two activities prevalent with tribes prior to 1840, as well as establishing Crown (public) ownership of the Territorial Sea. No other democratic country has laws that privatise its foreshore and seabed, and most look on it as being a. public commons owned by all, with everyone responsible for it.

The process for Government giving away Customary Marine Title, called “by agreement” is an entirely secret political deal, that does not require any cross-examined proof. All other interested parties such as Councils, commercial and recreational groups or the public, are locked out. Once Government agrees and signs a deal, it will be rubber-stamped by the farcical process of an Act of Parliament, by National’s majority, without any changes. An alternative approach is via the High Court. But this requires proof of relatively continuous occupation since 1840. So iwi do not favour it.

Given these dictatorial National Government processes for racially privatising our previously public foreshore and seabed, I urge you to sign the Coastal Coalition’s petition to scrap this unjust, divisive and racist Act.

The CIR Petition states: Should the Marine Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 be replaced by legislation that restores Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed?. Please encourage others to sign it too as soon as possible. Download copies of the Petition at www.CoastalCoalition.co.nz.