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Dr Muriel Newman

National’s foreshore seabed bill

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If you want New Zealand to remain a democracy rather than slowly reverting to a tribal aristocracy, please read on. And as you do, think about your children and grandchildren, and whether you want them to inherit one country or two. Then decide for yourself, who’s telling the truth and what you want to do.

This is information your prime minister will not want you to read. It concerns his plans to trade away New Zealand’s foreshore and seabed for Maori Party votes – by the end of summer.

Mr Key’s got his government spin machine working overtime to stop you learning the truth about this handover. All we’ve got is the power of the written word – and the will of the New Zealand people.

In June, Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said that no matter what the government does over the foreshore and seabed, Maori will keep on fighting: “We will keep fighting until we get that Maori Title, because it is ours by right. And not just customary title either, but formal, legislative recognition of our rights to the foreshore and seabed, as guaranteed under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”1

The first step in the Maori Party’s march to Maori Title is to take the foreshore and seabed out of the public’s hands by repealing Crown ownership. That’s what John Key’s new Bill, the Marine and Coastal Area (Tukutai Moana) Bill will do.

The second step is to declare that iwi have a ‘universal right’ to the whole coastline. That’s what the newly established universal customary interest, ‘Mana Tuku Iho’ in John Key’s new Bill, will do.

The third step is to open the floodgates to iwi claims. And that’s exactly what John Key’s new Bill will do, by not only weakening and widening the criteria under which claimants can qualify to make customary title claims, but also by giving politicians unilateral rights to grant such claims.

At present the test is high: to claim a customary title to the foreshore and seabed, iwi have to prove in the High Court that they have used and occupied the area exclusively and continuously since 1840, and that they have continuously owned the land abutting the claim.

The new Bill, however, drops the need for claimants to prove their claims in the High Court. Instead it enables Ministers to negotiate political deals in secret, involving the transfer of billions of dollars of public assets to the iwi elite – invariably creating new injustices – with no public scrutiny at all.

In addition, the requirement for iwi to own the land abutting their foreshore and seabed claim has been dropped, laying wide open the opportunity for iwi up and down the country to make claims.

Further, the stumbling block that iwi had to have used and occupied the area exclusively and continuously since 1840, has also been undermined. In the new Bill, an area of foreshore and seabed now being claimed could have been owned and used by other groups in the past, but as long as the area was ‘transferred’ to the claimants according to ‘tikanga’, it will be treated as if the claimants had always owned it!

So by subtle changes in the wording of his new Bill, John Key is putting the country onto a dangerous slippery slide to tribalism, whereby – by their own reckoning – at least 10 percent of New Zealand ’s coastline and many billions of dollars of public wealth, will go to the iwi tribal elite. However, notwithstanding the comments by those with a vested interest who are trying to downplay the impact of this Bill, the substantially weaker qualifying criteria means that this estimate is likely to be a significant understatement.

All of this will, of course, only be the start – John Key’s initial sacrifice of some 2,000 km of our coast will never be enough to satisfy the Maori Party and the iwi elite they represent.

At stake is that part of our country that most defines who we are as Kiwis – the glorious coastal region that is the birthright and common heritage of all New Zealanders. It consists of 10 million ha of beaches and sea – out to the 12 nautical mile limit – all harbours and tidal estuaries, the airspace above and the non-nationalised mineral wealth below. Crown Minerals has estimated the country’s iron sand reserves alone to be worth $1 trillion – with all royalties from such mining operations flowing to the Crown to fund hospitals, schools and other government services.

Bizarrely, at a time when our economy is stalling and when the government is looking for new ways to generate wealth to catch Australia, National is planning to give our priceless coastline, with its rich potential for future growth and development, to private Maori interests. As a result, coastal income from claimed areas will be stripped from the public purse to line corporate iwi coffers.

You have to hand it to the Prime Minister and his team – they have become masters of obfuscation over the foreshore and seabed, doing all they can to pacify the public. The soothing words that ‘nothing will change’, that ‘when Hone’s opposed to what we are doing, we must have got the balance about right’, and that ‘the amount of foreshore Maori will succeed in claiming will be relatively small’, are all cleverly designed to placate public concerns.

But don’t be fooled. Don’t trust politicians on this one – it is too important.

Look for yourself: you can read the current law here, National’s new Bill here, and the NZCPR’s new Briefing Paper (PDF) here (the Briefing Paper summarises the key points and compares the proposed reforms to the law as it stands today – including the fact that free public access is no longer guaranteed in the new Bill, that iwi will be largely exempted from resource management requirements, that they will be given total powers of veto over any other New Zealander seeking consents, and that they will have a virtual carte blanche to develop the foreshore and seabed region for commercial gain – or to transfer that right to third parties).

And for those with business interests in the coastal region who believe their concerns have been addressed in the new Bill, I say be careful – because unless Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed is retained, as each election comes around, politicians will lower the bar to win Maori Party support, and in the end, the present assurances will count for nothing.

The Maori Party has warned it wants the whole of our coast in Maori Title. As long as the Maori seats remain in Parliament, and the Maori Party continues to hold the balance of power in MMP governments, then, if this Bill is passed into law and the foreshore and seabed is taken out of public ownership and control, they will not stop until the whole of New Zealand’s coastal area, right out to the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone limit – including the nationalised oil, gold, silver and uranium reserves – is under Maori Title.

John Key’s Marine and Coastal Matters Bill, has now been referred to a Select Committee, with submissions closing on November 19th. Law lecturer and Treaty expert David Round, this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, has taken exception to the fact that the government has chosen the Maori Affairs Select Committee to deal with the Bill. In his article Submission process a disgrace he states:

“The select committee which is hearing submissions is not the Fisheries select committee, which heard submissions on Labour’s 2004 law, but the Maori Affairs select committee. This is disgraceful. The ownership and administration of this enormous piece of public property is a matter of interest to everyone, not just Maori, yet the very nature of the select committee ~ like virtually all of the ‘consultation’ hitherto ~ announces that this is a matter primarily of interest to Maori. Moreover, all of the committee’s seven members are Maori. They or their tribes are therefore potential beneficiaries of the laws they are making. Perhaps some of them may attempt to serve the public good, but even if so, what happened to justice not only being done but being seen to be done? In another context this would be described as being judge, jury and executioner.” Any New Zealander who believes that the foreshore and seabed is our common heritage and should remain in Crown ownership, for the benefit of all New Zealanders irrespective of race, now and into the future, must speak out now. If you agree with the thousands of New Zealanders in the grassroots Coastal Coalition movement, who are angry that John Key can even consider trading away our birthright, then there are four things you can do:

1. Send in a submission on the Bill before November 19th.

2. Forward this newsletter onto others who share your concerns about our future, so that they too can better understand what is at stake and what they need to do.

3. Contact your MPs (email MPs or write Freepost Parliament Building, Wellington), phone talkback, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper, raise your concerns on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, in forums and blogs, and generally help to spread awareness of the threat to our future freedom that National’s Bill represents.

4. Donate to the Coastal Coalition’s public information campaign so we can place advertisements in local newspapers to reach out and inform New Zealanders directly about what is going on.

As you think about the matters raised in this newsletter, remember the saying that the first step on any journey is always the hardest. If John Key is successful in persuading the country that this first step of abolishing Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed is the right thing to do, then over time our democracy will revert to a tribal aristocracy with full Maori ownership and control of New Zealand’s richest public asset – our coastline.

If on the other hand, the public can persuade John Key that his mandate at the election was to abolish the Maori seats, not champion Maori sovereignty, and that this Bill is a step too far and should be withdrawn, then there is still hope for a future where New Zealand is one country not two.

  1. Hone Harawira, Harawira on foreshore