Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Foreshore and seabed: the way forward

Roger Kerr, on the BfM wire, suggests that the government should let the cases progress through the courts, then forcibly acquire (and compensate) from anyone who wins.

At the moment, I'm inclining towards that sort of position, but I'd modify it in 3 ways:

  • Give the Maori land Court options. At the moment, all they can hand out is fee simple title. Legislating to recognise usage rights and allowing the court to determine their scope and extent will allow a more precise recognition of customary rights and reduce the likelihood of land ending up in fee simple.
  • Modify the RMA to extend the powers of the government and local authorities to create esplanade reserves. Currently, they can forcibly acquire a reserve strip from land adjacent to the foreshore or a river whenever a large parcel of land is subdivided. This needs to be extended to enable acquisition of foreshore, and to allow acquisition when land is sold. They would still have to pay for it, but it would allow us to bring privately owned foreshore (including that held by Auckland millionaires) back into public ownership.
  • Negotiate in good faith first, and look at quid pro quos (such as aquaculture licenses), rather than using the hammer of forcible acquistion. The immediate focus should on gaining a right of recreational access; outright ownership is not necessarily required for this.

Of course, this means the whole thing will be tied up in the courts, and that projects on disputed foreshore may be delayed by injunction until the cases are settled, but that is the price of justice.

(Lest anyone misunderstand: I think the government's proposal is fine if it can gain the acceptance of Maori - it's their rights which are primarily affected. But if the government can't get consent for its scheme, then they should leave it to the courts. And there's no reason why the two systems can't stand side by side, with the courts as the ultimate fallback for iwi who think the government will not recognise their rights).