7 Jul 2011

Judge says NZ has chance to lead on indigenous rights

8:35 pm on 7 July 2011

The High Court judge who led a comprehensive inquiry into Māori intellectual property rights says New Zealand can lead other countries in developing protection for indigenous knowledge.

The Wai 262 claim was released last Saturday and looked at Māori's relationship with flora and fauna and the place of Māori's culture, identity and traditional knowledge in New Zealand laws.

It recommends Māori have input when businesses try to commercially exploit taonga.

Justice Williams told Nine to Noon there is a broad debate within the World Trade Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation about the place of indigenous rights.

The judge says Māori culture is very fashionable overseas and New Zealand has the opportunity to adopt a stance on protecting it.

Non-commercial reference to the culture should not be controlled, he says, but exploitation for profit is another matter.

"What needs to be controlled to protect the relationship between these kaitiaki communities and these things they hold to be precious is to control commercial exploitation without input from them and to control offensive use of these things by people who are ignorant of the cultural values around them."

Justice Williams says there is a broad debate overseas about how to protect indigenous rights.

"Here is an opportunity in this country to deal with the same issues being dealt with in the Americas, in Australia, in China and in Africa and to get the advantage of first mover status around how we develop policy architecture to confront and resolve these problems."

Justice Williams says New Zealand's economy and identity will be diminished if Māori culture is not protected.

The Wai 262 report says iwi and hapū could take a commercial stake in any deal to create pharmaceuticals using indigenous flora and fauna.

Justice Williams says it is the people's knowledge of and their relationship with the species that would have been the trigger for a commercial operation.

The judge says in balancing all interests, it would be appropriate for Māori to have a financial interest.

Justice Williams says it is possible there will be an opportunity for commercial exploitation through the use of taonga species where mātauranga Māori, or Māori traditional knowledge, is used.