Friday, November 19, 2004

Final words on the foreshore and seabed

The Foreshore and Seabed Bill has passed. While it is better than it was, and certainly far better than any "solution" National would have given us, it is still a deeply flawed piece of legislation (perhaps guaranteed given the number of parties it has had to please). While parts of it are acceptable (for example, the legal framework provided for non-territorial customary rights), at its heart it is intended to limit and extinguish aboriginal title over the foreshore and seabed, while preserving the rights of present, mostly Pakeha owners - and that is very difficult to stomach.

I opposed the bill and submitted against it primarily on the grounds that it denied due process and equality under the law. These are not just guaranteed by the Treaty, but are the very foundation of organised, constitutional government. Unfortunately, the government has seen fit to trample all over these principles in pursuit of the redneck vote, and then trampled all over the democratic process to ram it through by the end of the week. That is not something that can easily be forgiven.

The irony is that none of this was really necessary. The general thrust of the bill - the protection of customary usage rights, and territorial rights recognised through co-managed reserves - is I think pretty much where we would have ended up if the government had reacted calmly and let the cases proceed while negotiating a general settlement. But by panicking and resorting immediately to legislation, the government has alienated Maori and guaranteed us all trouble for a long time to come. I have said all along that any lasting solution to the foreshore and seabed has to be acceptable to the vast majority of Maori. This legislation is not. While many will eventually be able to reconcile themselves to it, enough have been offended by the government's "fuck you" attitude and perceived betrayal to guarantee that the matter will be relitigated. Partly this will be done through various UN human rights bodies, but with the rise of the Maori Party, the main thrust will be through the electoral system. In May a hikoi was organised to oppose this legislation, and thousands came. The next hikoi may very well be to the ballot box.