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Dr Muriel Newman

Last chance to defend coastal rights

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A half page advertisement promoting our Citizens Initiated Referendum (CIR) to restore Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed will appear in community newspapers throughout the country this week. The ad asks those people who believe that our coastline out to the 22km edge of the Territorial Sea belongs to all New Zealanders equally regardless of race, to sign our petition for a nation-wide referendum. If we can gather the support of 320,000 registered voters by the end of June, this will become only the fifth CIR petition to ever succeed in triggering a citizens’ referendum.

At the same time as our call for support for our CIR goes nationwide, a battle is erupting between community groups and the government, over a prime coastal area that has been secretly given to a tribal corporation to do what they want with it. While the circumstances are different, in that the deal involving community reserve land at Takapuna Head is part of a Treaty settlement, rather than a customary rights claim negotiated under the new Marine and Coastal Area Act, the underlying issues are similar. Coastal deals will involve secret ownership agreements between Ministers and tribal groups – without communities being notified or involved in any way at all, even though the repercussions could involve major local developments such as the setting up of marine farms or the mining of coastal minerals.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Dr Hugh Barr, Secretary for the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand, is the co-promoter of the CIR. In his article When will iwi and Finlayson start taking our beaches?, he reminds us that iwi wasted no time at all in lodging claims for the foreshore and seabed once the new law was passed last year:

“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.”

The point that Hugh makes is a very important one. Unlike the previous Foreshore and Seabed Act, which required claimants to prove their case in the High Court, the new law has created a separate political process to allow iwi to avoid having to go to court. As a result, valuable public resources – namely pristine areas of coastline and the invaluable mineral and commercial wealth it contains – can be awarded to chosen iwi by a government minister through secret deals. That is a scandal in itself – especially as the new law not only encourages commercialisation of the foreshore and seabed, but also allows the area to be leased out to foreign interests.

Under the new law, no-one will know which beaches are being claimed or whether the justification being offered as proof of ‘ownership’ has any validity. All we have is the Official Information Act, which provides only limited information. There are no public disclosure provisions for claims, even though such details are very definitely in the public interest. And, just to rub salt into the wound, don’t forget that under the new law, the cost of preparing claims falls on taxpayers – it is taxpayers who will be forced to pay iwi to prepare their claims for our foreshore and seabed.

The foreshore and seabed debacle had its origins in the 2008 confidence and supply agreement between the Maori Party and National. They agreed to no more than a review of the legislation covering the foreshore and seabed. In fact, the Prime Minister even went on record, saying that a law change would not go ahead unless there was widespread public support. When a nationwide review was called and the public were asked their opinion, an overwhelming majority opposed a law change. But rather than ending the process, the Attorney General chose to suppress the results. They were covered up while the announcement was made that the law change would go ahead. When finally flushed out months later under the Official Information Act, over 90 percent of review submitters had opposed a law change.

As it turned out, none of this mattered. The Government had already decided that their coalition agreement with the Maori Party and Iwi Leaders meant more to them than the wishes of 90 percent of the public. Repeal of Crown ownership to enable progressive tribal ownership and control of the beaches and Territorial Sea was an inevitable outcome.

From the day the Coastal Coalition was launched to fight against the law change, we faced an uphill battle. Our call for people opposed to the new law to put in submissions on the bill resulted in 4,500 responses – probably 10 times more than would have been expected without our campaign. MPs were inundated with emails and visits from constituents urging them to oppose the law change. Billboards and ads informing the public about the proposed law change covered the country. But once the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River Mine disasters struck, the government was able to rush the bill through into law while the country mourned.

In a representative democracy, it is part of the duty of elected MPs to uphold the wishes of their constituents and represent their views in Parliament. By protecting the rights of the majority of citizens, MPs play a crucial role in preventing the parliamentary process from being hijacked by powerful vested interest groups. However, under MMP this tradition has changed as MPs have been seen to abandon their primary responsibility to their constituents in favour of becoming lap-dogs to their political bosses. This has left more and more New Zealanders feeling increasingly disenfranchised.

Fortunately, thanks to the foresight of advocates who believed voters in our democracy needed more power over their elected representatives, New Zealand has the Citizens Initiated Referendum Act. Passed into law in 1993, the Act allows citizens to challenge bad legislation and propose new laws. While such referendum outcomes are not binding on a government, they do allow the public to stand up and express their views on contentious public policy issues. To succeed with a CIR, promoters have to gain approval for their petition question from Parliament’s Clerk, then within twelve months gather the support of 10 percent of registered voters. If they succeed, the government will be required to hold a nation-wide referendum on the question to give all New Zealanders a chance to have their say.

It is under this 1993 CIR law that the Coastal Coalition’s proposal to overturn the Marine and Coastal Area Act was launched last year. As noted on Parliament’s website, the CIR proposal was submitted by Dr Muriel Newman and Dr Hugh Barr on 11 April 2011. The approved wording reads, “Should the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011 be replaced by legislation that restores Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed?”. The deadline for submitting the required number of signatures is 14 July 2012.

Under the CIR Act, promoters can spend a total of $50,000 including GST advertising the petition. The Act allows anyone to register as a promoter and spend up to $50,000 advertising the CIR as long as they operate independently of other promoters. The community newspaper advertisement that you should see in your local paper this week, represents the full value of advertising that Hugh and I can undertake. In other words, because the promotional spending cap has not been raised by Parliament since the law was introduced in 1993, it has not kept pace with rising costs. Had it been inflation adjusted, it is very likely that the ad that is being published in community newspapers this week could have been run in daily papers across the country as well. Covering community and daily papers would almost certainly guarantee the success of our CIR.

A CIR is a numbers game. The good news is that our target is a bit lower than we had thought – as at 29 February 2012 the total number of enrolled voters is 3,056,213 so our 10 percent target is 305,622, rather than the 320,000 estimated last July. But we were advised at the outset that we would need to collect several thousand more signatures than the actual target. This is due to the fact that some people who are not on the electoral roll will sign the petition, and others will mistakenly sign more than once. So, our target is still 320,000 signatures by the end of June. And to put that into perspective, 320,000 is the equivalent of the combined population of Wellington and Hamilton!

Our grateful thanks go out to those of you who have been busy collecting signatures over the last few months – with a special mention of Kay and George Cowper from Bluff who we featured last week for their wonderful achievement of collecting over 1,000 signatures on their own. Just imagine if we had another 319 people with the same dedication as Kay and George! In thinking about numbers – during the foreshore and seabed review in April 2010, the NZCPR launched an on-line petition calling for an extension of the time frame for submissions. Within six days over 4,000 people had registered their support for that petition – most of them readers of this newsletter. If 4,000 of the readers who receive this newsletter printed off eight petition forms to give to eight of their family and friends with an appeal for them to get their contacts to fill them in, our goal would be well and truly achieved!

As a mother and grandmother, I fervently believe that every New Zealand child – now and into the future – deserves the same free and unfettered ownership right to the coast that has been enjoyed by past generations. This is a fundamental issue about who we are as New Zealanders. Just because National and the Maori Party forced a bad law onto us last year, doesn’t mean that we have to take it lying down. Our democracy gives us the power to fight back. That’s why we are running this CIR. But we need the public to support us if we are to overturn this scandalous law. Please do all that you can to help.