Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Foreshore and seabed: Labour admits it was wrong

Labour has released its submission [DOC] to the government's review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. And in it, they do a surprising thing: admit they were wrong. When it passed the Act, Labour was adamant that iwi would not be allowed to win customary title through the courts, and certainly not through the (expert) Maori Land Court. Instead, even if iwi had a cast-iron case for continuing customary ownership, the most they would be able to get would be one-sided "negotiations" with the crown, or the creation of a foreshore and seabed reserve over which they would exercise kaitiakitanga. Now they're arguing that the ability of the courts to award customary title should be restored, and that it should be done in the first instance by the Maori Land Court, rather than making iwi waste tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary High Court action.

Its nowhere near a complete reversal - they still want a ban on such customary title being converted to freehold title, a ban on its alienation, and a ban on charges for access and passage. But its still a tremendous change, and for all those limits, having the courts able to say "this is your land" is a significant and meaningful difference. All along iwi have said that what they wanted was the recognition of their mana and kaitiaki. This is a step towards doing that.

If Labour had pushed for this in the beginning, rather than panicking in the face of National's race-baiting, there's a chance the tragedy of the last five years could have been avoided. Instead, thanks to their short-sightedness and pandering to racists, we got five years of bitterness and injustice. And for what? To get where we would likely have ended up anyway. At least now they seem to be making an effort to rectify their mistake.