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Dr Muriel Newman

A dangerous law

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After nine months of campaigning to raise public awareness about the dangers of the Marine and Coastal Area Bill, the National Party is on the brink of passing it into law – while the country is still in mourning over the shocking Canterbury earthquake. According to Parliament’s Order Paper, National intends pushing ahead with what has been called the most controversial bill in modern times, on Tuesday.

Here is An Open Letter to Kiwis – please read it. John Key promised he would not push this bill into law unless there was widespread public support. Those people who have studied the bill are overwhelmingly opposed. It would introduce a gross public injustice that would deeply divide New Zealand society. John Key must honour his promise and withdraw the bill – it is a matter of trust.

To appreciate how bad this bill really is, it is useful to reflect on the Court of Appeal ruling in 2003 that sparked the whole controversy: the judges indicated that iwi might have customary title to some of the foreshore and seabed, but that if any still existed, it would be rare and remote. They also explained that the test was so high that few if any iwi would qualify.

Instead of using that as the guideline, as Labour did with the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act – which has resulted in only one claim being progressed over the last seven years – National’s deal with the Maori Party is to repeal of Crown ownership of the entire coast, so that it can be progressively privatised to iwi. To add insult to injury, the bill reverses the burden of proof, so iwi no longer have to prove a customary title exists – the Crown has to prove that it doesn’t! But given that most claims on matters dating back over 170 years will not be heard in a court of law but will be negotiated directly with a friendly Minister, the whole process is clearly a farce. Effectively National’s bill is a mechanism to affect a massive transfer of wealth, power and resources from the public of New Zealand to the elite of Maoridom.

The reality is that John Key and his sycophantic MPs are privatising our coast to stay in power. Their present coalition deal to secure five Maori Party votes will cost the country 2,000 km or 10 percent of our public coastline. And National doesn’t even need the Maori Party this time around! Imagine how much more they will give away if they have to depend on the Maori party’s support – quite possibly as soon as November this year!

National’s whole campaign to remove the foreshore and seabed from the ownership of the public of New Zealand has been an absolute disgrace. The powerful iwi elite, who claim to control wealth equivalent to almost half of the value of the New Zealand stock exchange, have the ear of the Prime Minister. They stand to gain immense wealth from this deal and cannot believe their luck. The valid concerns raised by the Coastal Coalition – a grassroots movement of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who believe there is no justification for the wholesale repeal of Crown ownership – have been countered by an orchestrated litany of lies.

It is only now that Chris Finlayson, the former Ngai Tahu lawyer and one-eyed architect of the bill, has been forced to admit that our concerns are justified. However, with the iwi leaders pulling this government’s strings, the promised concessions are likely to be more form than substance. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why the bill was rushed back from the select committee to Parliament before it was amended – if the amendments had been inserted into the bill, as is standard practice, the public would have had an opportunity to examine the detail. Like the amendments regarding Maori representation on the Auckland super city council, there are likely to be a number of very unpleasant surprises in store for an unsuspecting public.

Knowing that some iwi have openly stated they intend charging the public for access to their coast, many months ago the Coastal Coalition questioned whether the bill guarantees “free” access. After much abuse the Minister agreed an amendment was needed – but six months later, we are still waiting to see the wording!

To maintain the free and unfettered access to the coast enjoyed by generations of Kiwis, free access should include free vehicle access as well. However, when asked at a recent public meeting whether free access would include free vehicle access, Chris Finlayson refused to answer. That the architect of the bill couldn’t state categorically that vehicle access will be free, should concern the many New Zealanders whose regular use of the coast involves a vehicle for launching a boat or travelling to a favoured fishing or surfing spot. If Chris Finlayson is planning to allow the new Maori owners of our coast to charge for vehicle access he should say so, instead of continuing with half-truths and deception.

The Coastal Coalition said the bill introduces ‘secret’ settlements, rather than requiring claimants to prove their claim in the High Court, which is the current situation. Chris Finlayson accused us of misleading the public and even circulated briefing papers refuting our claims. After thousands of submitters on the bill raised similar concerns over clauses 93-95 of the bill, which introduces direct negotiation, the Minister has been forced to concede another amendment is needed. However, instead of requiring iwi to prove their claims in court, which most submitters recommended, he announced that negotiated deals will be ratified by Parliament. This is a smokescreen since it fails to rectify the intolerable situation whereby millions if not billions of dollars worth of public assets will be transferred into private hands, through cosy deals with friendly Ministers, rather than through legal proof in an open court of law.

The Coastal Coalition found that the new bill significantly lowers the threshold tests for customary title – a move that will open the floodgates for claims. Chris Finlayson aggressively responded by saying we were misleading the public. Yet in a briefing paper to iwi outlining how much they will gain from the new bill, the Maori Party provides details on how the tests have been lowered. The dropping of the need to own the land adjoining the claimed area means that iwi who maintain their coastal land was confiscated (even if it was sold!) are now free to make claims. In addition, the definitions of ‘continuous’ and ‘exclusive’ ownership have been weakened to the point where areas being claimed can have been freely used over the years by strangers. The paper also reminds iwi that taxpayer funding will be available for the preparation of claims.

The Maori Party briefing paper highlights the importance of ‘customary interest’ or “Mana Tuku Iho”. This is a new Maori privilege created by Chris Finlayson that will affect every coastal community throughout the whole country. Customary interests give local iwi special rights above all other citizens to be consulted on local conservation and resource management issues. In addition, the briefing paper states it gives them the power to designate wahi tapu to effectively ban public access around the whole coast. Iwi don’t need to prove anything to qualify for these new rights, they just have to apply. This means is that every coastal community in New Zealand will be impacted by this bill, not just those in areas where iwi are claiming ownership rights.

The Coastal Coalition has continually pointed out that the Prime Minister’s assertion that the bill would provide an ‘enduring solution’ is propaganda of the worst kind. The Maori Party have always said they will not stop until the whole coast is in Maori title. In their briefing paper they say, “The bill does not settle the issues, but keeps them alive”.

And so it goes on. We have continually raised concerns but rather than honestly addressing them, the National Party have used their propaganda machine to counter them through gross misrepresentation. Those National Party MPs who have turned their backs on the very serious concerns of their constituents and gone along with their Party lies, deserve to be ousted at the next election – unless of course they discover a spine and stand up for those who voted them into office by opposing the bill.

Political commentator, Chris Trotter, this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, has condemned National’s bill as a dangerous piece of legislation in his article No Ordinary Bill.

“The government’s decision to rush through the remaining stages of the Marine Coastal Area Bill is as ill-considered as it is dangerous. For this is no ordinary piece of legislation, easily repealed by a newly-elected House of Representatives. It is a bill which confers upon Maori, by virtue of their indigeneity, a new kind of property right (Customary Title), along with a powerful new set of legal powers to enforce that right – powers which the legislation’s many critics believe will undermine the generally accepted principles of liberal democracy.

“The formal equality of all citizens lies at the heart of the liberal-democratic state. Indeed, any state which invests one part of the population with more rights than another, or strips a minority of citizens of rights enjoyed by their neighbours, is quite rightly condemned for promoting inequality.”

The actions of the National Party in betraying the New Zealand public so they can satisfy their political ambitions is an utter disgrace. Those good Kiwis who have had the guts to stand up and speak out against this racist bill should be congratulated, as should those National Party supporters who have said enough is enough and will withdraw all of their support if this dreadful bill is passed into law. National has a responsibility to serve the public who voted them into office, and while John Key has already announced he will not stick around if he loses the next election that lack of principle is not what builds a strong and resilient nation.

It has been said that National is only pushing ahead with the bill because they think the public will have forgotten about it by the time the election comes along. But that is incorrect as political parties are already lining up to campaign for its repeal. The Coastal Coalition is committed to campaigning on this issue right up to the election and we are considering launching a Citizens Initiated Referendum to call for the repeal of the Marine and Coastal Area Bill if it is passed into law. As you know collecting 350,000 signatures for a referendum is a big challenge, so please contact us if you would be prepared to help.

This foreshore and seabed debacle is a symptom of a far deeper malaise that is now afflicting New Zealand society. At its heart is an entrenched policy of racial separatism that is being perpetrated by the New Zealand state. The race-based seats are the power base, and, if the Maori Party retains its influence after the next election, it is highly likely that the Treaty of Waitangi will be entrenched into a new constitution. And if you think that could never happen – think again. This bill to transfer New Zealand’s coastline from public ownership into the private coffers of the Maori aristocracy is about to be passed into law. Most of us thought that could never happen in this beach loving democracy. These matters are insidious – with Maori separatists intimidating opponents and self-interested politicians ridiculing them, it is time we stood up to fight for our rights as New Zealanders to be treated equally. It’s time for people with courage to act.