Monday, January 12, 2004

My uncertainty grows

Every time I look at the foreshore and seabed issue, I become more and more uncertain about whether the government is doing the right thing. In my last post - made when the government released the details of its policy just before christmas - I was generally happy, but also a little bit concerned:

the court decision which sparked all this talked about the improbability of actually gaining [freehold] title, but the possibility was there, and now its not. If there is an iwi or hapu out there with a strong case for actual title, then they've been robbed.

At the time, that seemed like a big "if", and one easily dealt with by the government's offer of financial compensation. But now we find out that its not such a big if after all - and in fact that Maori could have won title over 10% of New Zealand's coastline:

Mr Tamihere's claims are based on Land Information New Zealand surveys which reveal Maori communally own just over 10 per cent of the land on New Zealand's 19,883km coastline.

Mr Tamihere said it was the first time concrete information had been collated quantifying Maori ownership of land beside the foreshore with no Queen's Chain in between.

It showed 1996km of Maori freehold land which had always been in tribal hands, giving those owners an "extraordinarily strong" foreshore and seabed case.

"If you were sizing the relevance of the Maori claim, from a Government perspective, we now know absolutely without doubt ... that no less than this would have got, more than likely, a freehold title.

"The burden of proof ... is minimal by dint of the fact that they have continued to hold their land and practise their customs on the shoreline."

This changes matters considerably. We're not just talking about a few kilometers here and there; we're talking about fully 10% of the coastline. I'd disagree with Tamihere; this is huge. It's certainly going to cost a lot of money if the government is even half-serious about its offer of compensation.

And on the other hand, doing the right thing is sometimes expensive. And what else can we do? Despite the baying of the rednecks, we cannot just legislate crown ownership; that would be tantamount to tearing up the Treaty, and destroying the very foundations on which this country is built. If we want the beaches to be in the public domain, we are going to have to pay for them, either by compensation or quid pro quo.