2 Apr 2010

Foreshore changes would not be felt by most, says English

12:59 pm on 2 April 2010

Most people would notice little change if proposed foreshore and seabed reforms go ahead, says the Government.

Opposition parties have described the Government's plan as nothing more than a repackaging of the 2004 legislation.

But Deputy Prime Minister Bill English told Parliament on Thursday afternoon that most people's interest in the foreshore and seabed was about access, and that would not change.

But Mr English said returning the right of Maori to go to court to seek customary title was significant.

Mr English said Labour's Foreshore and Seabed Act had not proved to be a lasting solution.

Maori Party undecided

The Maori Party is yet to decide which option it prefers as a replacement for the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

On Wednesday, the Government outlined four possibilities, clearly stating its preference that no one would own the land and iwi would regain the right to go to court to establish customary title.

The Government's preferred option would also mean customary title would be defined by law, any such land could not be sold and public access would still be guaranteed.

The Maori Party is being coy about its preferences, saying the public domain proposal is just one option.

Party co-leader Tariana Turia says its main concern is about repealing the current law and access to justice and it is now up to the people to have their say on the proposals.

"Our main concern is around repeal, about access to justice and about our people's ability to take it to court."

Other options include keeping ownership with the Crown, or giving Maori absolute title. The public has until the end of April to make submissions on the discussion document.

Treaty Negotiations Minister and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson says there will be 11 hui over the four weeks of consultation and he will also meet with businesses, human rights groups and trade unions.

The Green Party says the Government's proposal is not a victory for Maori. Co-leader Metiria Turei believes the timing of the consultation period is unfair.

Proposal not yet acceptable, say iwi

Iwi leaders say the Government's proposal that no one should own the foreshore and seabed is a significant advance, but not yet acceptable.

Mark Solomon of Ngai Tahu, who chairs the influential Iwi Leadership Group, says the Government's proposal to repeal the 2004 act, give up Crown ownership and allow Maori to go to court to establish customary title is a great step forward.

But a commentary written by the group says putting the foreshore and seabed into public domain may not satisfy the rights, expectations and values of iwi and hapu.

It says the proposal does not explain who will get the right to develop and mine below the high-water mark.

Mr Solomon says that despite these problems, the proposal contains good elements and can be seen as a useful stepping stone to a lasting solution.

Lobby group critical

The Government's plan has been criticised by a public access lobby group.

A spokesperson for Recreation Access New Zealand, Bruce Mason, says despite the proposal granting the public statutory right of access, the Government cannot be relied upon to look after the public's interest.

Mr Mason says the four-week consultation process is inadequate for the public to have a fair say.

Aquaculture New Zealand and Federated Farmers say it is too early to comment on such a complex matter.

Meanwhile, a Northland Maori leader says recognising the mana and relationship of iwi in relation to the coast is crucial, above and beyond whatever regulatory measures the Government might bring in.

Mrs Glavish, of Ngati Whatua, says an opportunity is being missed to look at concepts like kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, as a tool to manage resources.

Changes cosmetic - Labour

Labour Party MP Shane Jones describes the Government's proposed changes as simply cosmetic.

Mr Jones told Morning Report more litigation might be the result of the measures, although they are similar to what is being replaced.

He says the idea that Maori could veto coastal developments might lead to what he descibes as "brownmail", where tribes receive cash in return for their support.

Michael Cullen, the man responsible for the previous Labour government's foreshore and seabed policy, says he is happy with plans to repeal the law.

Dr Cullen, who was deputy prime minister before National came to power, says whatever the changes, many aspects of his law appear set to remain in force - albeit under a different name.