22 Oct 2017

NZ First refuses to say if Kermadec plans are afloat

6:56 pm on 22 October 2017

The proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary could still be blocked by New Zealand First in its coalition deal with the Labour Party, new information suggests.

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Photo: Malcolm Francis / NIWA

Labour and the Greens say the sanctuary is still on the table and the two parties have rejected reports that the proposed 620,000 square kilometre marine sanctuary, about 1000km to the northeast of the North Island, is dead in the water.

Media reports today said the scheme would not go any further, having been killed off by New Zealand First in its coalition talks with Labour.

Those reports produced a one line denial from the Labour Party, which said the Kermadec proposal was still on the table.

A whale in mid air

A young humpback whale leaps out of the water near Raoul Island in the Kermadecs Photo: Becky Lindsay / University of Auckland

"Our intention is to work alongside Māori and use our best endeavours to achieve the Kermadec Sanctuary," the incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

"We will be seeking consensus and agreement with our support parties to find a resolution."

The Green Party also insisted the proposal was still alive.

But the New Zealand First Party refused to say whether the Kermadec proposal was alive or dead. It said that information would have to await the release of the party's coalition agreement with Labour on Tuesday.

But it drew RNZ's attention to an earlier press statement opposing the Kermadec scheme. That statement called the sanctuary a breach of contract with Māori. It said the National-led government was not keeping its word over the 1992 Sealord deal, which included commercial Māori fishing rights and claims, shares, and millions of dollars in cash.

The Kermadec proposal was bitterly criticised by Māori fishing leaders last year, who said it breached the Sealord deal and the Treaty of Waitangi.

"We have rights in that area which are guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1992 treaty settlement," Te Ohu Kaimoana chairman Jamie Tuuta said last year.

"The Crown has never asked Māori whether we consent to these rights being extinguished and we object to being treated so disrespectfully."

The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would be one of the world's largest, about two and a half times the size of New Zealand's total land area. The region, which includes the once inhabited Raoul Island, is one of the most pristine environments on Earth and includes the world's longest chain of underwater volcanoes and the second-deepest ocean trench. The Kermadec island group, which includes Raoul, are the visible peaks in a chain of around 80 volcanoes stretching for 2600km between Tonga and New Zealand.

A ban on fishing and mining around the Kermadecs was announced by former Prime Minister John Key and legislation to create the sanctuary is part-way through Parliament.

It was criticised by Māori fishing interests as breaching Treaty rights, and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said last year his party would not back it on that basis.

At this stage, full clarification will not be available until Tuesday.

The proposed sanctuary would be 35 times larger than the combined area of New Zealand's existing 44 marine reserves, and protect 15 percent of New Zealand's total ocean environment.

It would cover the ocean around the five main Kermadec Islands: Raoul, Macauley, Cheeseman, Curtis and L'Esperance.

There is an existing 7500 square kilometres reserve in the Kermadec region, administered by the Department of Conservation and accessible with a permit.

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