Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Foreshore and seabed: "simply wrong in principle and approach"

That is the conclusion of the Ministerial Review into the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. The Act discriminated against Maori by stripping them of their right to their day in court, it was based on foreign legal principles of Crown ownership which have no place in New Zealand law, the thresholds it set to prove customary ownership were too high, and even if iwi and hapu managed to meet them, they would gain very little by doing so. The review regards this as unfair (so unfair in fact that the law would not have passed constitutional muster in Australia or the United States), and recommends repeal. In its place, they recommend an interim law recognising customary rights and establishing a framework for settlement. Iwi and hapu would be able to have their day in court, but it is expected that such cases would be rendered unnecessary by a settlement process providing for recognition, co-management, and ultimately ownership or co-ownership with a share of revenues. Protecting the customary recreational rights of all New Zealanders would be a key part of the Act, so there is no reason to fear that people will not be able to use the beaches.

This is basically what the government should have done all along: taken a deep breath, then sat down and talked to Maori in good faith about how to move forward. And it is deeply ironic that the party whose shameless pandering to racism prevented that will be the ones to fix it. Assuming, of course, that they do. But the pressure from the Maori Party to accept the report's findings will be intense. Hopefully they will seize the opportunity to right this wrong, rather than further perpetuating it.