Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Equality as a front for expropriating the foreshore

What really gets my goat about Don Brash is that all his talk of "one law for all" and eliminating Maori "special privileges" is ultimately targetted squarely at the foreshore. Maori gaining customary title over the foreshore is denounced by Brash as "separatism", and the rights they would gain under such title as a "special privilege". They're not. As NZPols has pointed out, the foreshore is not about "special rights" for Maori - it's about "the same damn property rights that everyone else gets". And National's "solution" - legislating to claim ownership of all foreshore and seabed that is not currently owned by private landholders - is about as unequal and racially-based a policy as you can get.

The foreshore and seabed issue is all about property rights - and if there's one thing that the Treaty is absolutely clear on, it is guaranteeing that the crown would uphold the property rights of Maori. ACT makes a lot of noise about the crown having supposedly formally declared ownership over the foreshore and seabed in the middle of last century; the court apparently disagrees. But more importantly, it's not relevant. What matters is not who owns the foreshore now, but who owned it in 1840. If Maori were exercising property rights over the foreshore in 1840, then the crown had an obligation to respect those rights, and they can be passed on to the heirs and assignees of those iwi and hapu, just as you or I can inherit our grandparent's house, car or cat.

There's a substantive issue of fact over whether Maori did in fact own the foreshore in 1840, but that's why people are going to court: to see whether they did or not. National's "solution" is thus both a denial of due process and a racially-based expropriation. Calling this "equality under the law" is simply obscene.

What's worse is that legislating simply won't work. Any real solution to this dilemma has to be acceptable to the vast majority of New Zealanders, including the vast majority of Maori - otherwise it will simply go to the Waitangi Tribunal, fester, and be relitigated whenever there is a change of government. No matter what you think of the government's plans, at least they are trying to find an acceptable compromise rather than pretend that the Treaty never happened.