Thursday, October 14, 2010

ACT: Property rights for all, except for Maori

There have been appalling scenes in Parliament this week, as new ACT MP Hilary Calvert takes up her predecessor David Garrett's cause of whipping up racism over the foreshore for political profit. The focus of ACT's ire is the spectre of Māori charging people to go to the beach - something the bill doesn't really let them do, and something they've consistently said they're not interested in doing anyway. But through this fearmongering, ACT has now managed to get the government to agree to amend the bill to prohibit charging for public access. And so now they're turning to their real target: access for business:

Hilary Calvert: Does the Attorney-General agree that iwi customary marine title holders will be able to charge a fee for new mussel farms over the foreshore and seabed for which they have title, via a veto that his bill gives them through the planning process?
Note that a mussel farm by its nature restricts public access. So, ACT's position is that marine farmers should be able to restrict access, but that iwi and hapu shouldn't be able to, and certainly shouldn't be able to ask for consideration from those farmers as compensation for them not being able to exercise their customary uses. Māori should just surrender their property rights, however defined, to Pakeha, for free. Which is a pretty toxic attitude for ACT to take. Such attitudes in the past are one reason why we're having to go through a Treaty settlements process today.

On the face of it, an amendment which prohibits Māori from doing something they didn't want to do anyway shouldn't matter much. But the danger here is that such racist pandering will undermine Māori consent for the bill, and hence its legitimacy. This bill is effectively an informal settlement, and thus depends crucially on the consent of the iwi and hapu whose rights are being affected. If it comes to be seen by them as just another redneck dispossession, then it will fail. That may suit ACT very well. But its bad for the rest of us, who want a fair, just and durable solution.