Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The tragedy of the foreshore and seabed

The government has signed a deal with Ngati Porou to recognise their territorial customary rights over the foreshore and seabed in their tribal rohe. While I opposed the Foreshore and Seabed Act as an attack on due process and equality under the law, I still think this is good news. At the same time, it also demonstrates perfectly the tragedy of the foreshore and seabed.

When the agreement is finalised, it will require legal recognition of Ngati Porou's territorial customary rights.

The agreement will ensure Ngati Porou's status is recorded in official documents and is taken into account in consent processes under the Resource Management Act and Marine Reserves Act.

It will also require the Government to consult with Ngati Porou on issues such as fisheries and conservation in the East Cape coastal area.

There will also be a protection for specified customary rights and the ability to block resource consents which would affect the coastal customary rights areas.

The Government and the iwi are yet finalise details of the agreement including the location of territorial customary rights areas and the collection of evidence to back the claims.

Reading this, the overwhelming feeling is that this is exactly the sort of settlement crown and iwi would have been discussing if the law had not been passed and iwi had been free to contest ownership through the courts. So instead of having a few court cases short-circuited by negotiation and mutual settlement, we've had them short-circuited by law and a denial of fundamental human rights - with consequent feelings of betrayal and mistrust - to achieve pretty much the same result. In what universe could that possibly be considered a good outcome?

By legislating in panic, the government has made its job harder. Not only does it have to reach the same settlements it would have reached anyway; it also has to deal with the legacy of mistrust it has created. We're all going to be paying for that mistake for some time to come.