Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fearmongering on the foreshore

Last night, Three News had an appalling piece of fearmongering on the foreshore, with a report that a Northland iwi was threatening to block access to an iconic surfing spot:

A group of Maori are threatening to block access to an iconic Northland surf spot.

Shipwreck Bay, at the foot of 90 Mile Beach, could be off-limits - unless commercial operators, like tourism companies, begin paying them to use it.

The dispute is seen as a forerunner to other cases, with Maori claiming “customary title” under the Government’s seabed and foreshore legislation.

Well, that seems pretty clear cut. The beaches are under threat! From brown people! Panic! Except that if you read further, its not:
Mr Tepania says his people aren’t sick of the public – just those who use the beach to make money.

“How would people like it if businesses were crossing over their front drive or front lawn,” he says.


That access is through Maori-owned land, which gives them control. Control that will extend onto the beach and up to 20km out to sea if they get “customary title” under the Government’s new foreshore law.

So, in fact this has nothing to do with the foreshore, except for the possibility of a future claim. The dispute is actually over access to the beach across private land. This is a thorny issue in itself - one which saw the Labour government try and force public access, and then when faced with massive opposition from property owners (chiefly farmers), establish the Walking Access Commission to negotiate for it. But even that access applies only to people on foot. It does not apply to commercial operators with vehicles.

What Three News' story seems to boil down to is a claim that commercial operators should be able to use Maori land as of right, without paying for it - a claim that Maori have lesser property rights than other New Zealanders. There's a very simple word for that position: racism. And Three News should be ashamed of itself for spreading it.

Update: This seems to be an ongoing dispute up there. Here's a piece of background that puts it in context:

The dispute centres on a piece of Maori land between the beach and the end of the council-owned section of Foreshore Rd.

In the past, private vehicles had been allowed across the land, owned by Te Kohanga Trust, and businesses paid an annual concession to use it.

Claims of people driving recklessly on Foreshore Rd have seen the access closed regularly in recent months and frustrations boiled over on Sunday afternoon.

The trust closed their private road to commercial operators three weeks ago, after the incident in that article. And they have every right to do so (though not, I should add, to hijack cars).