Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Foreshore & seabed: Sinking the bill?

The Māori Party has announced that it may not support the government's Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill:

However Mrs Turia said yesterday that the party would take its lead from its people and the submissions during the select committee process.

"If people round the country, if our constituency says it is not worth our while progressing this, of course we wouldn't [support it]."

The reason for this is of course ACT's amendment requiring free access. While requiring people to do something they were offering to do anyway doesn't sound like so much, the fact that it is being forced on them by ACT is going to stick in a lot of craws. In many ways, its a microcosm of the whole foreshore and seabed debacle - the problem with the original act isn't so much where it ended up (you have only to look at the current bill, which is nearly identical, to see that) as how it was passed. And sadly, ACT seems to be driving the government to make the same mistake, imposing a settlement on Māori without, rather than with, their consent.

Ultimately this could sink the bill. ACT won't vote for it. The Greens won't vote for it. And Labour would be fools to vote for it if the Māori Party opposes it (Peter Dunne is irrelevant, as always). Even if it does pass, it will have lost all legitimacy. Any legislation on the foreshore and seabed is only legitimate insofar as it has the support and consent of Māori - and the Māori Party's votes are key signs of that support (especially given their practice of consulting iwi first). The result will be to perpetuate the problem rather than solve it.

So what happens if the bill fails? The current Act stays in place, and we go round again, with the Māori Party pushing for change through the coalition process. The difference will be that attitudes will have hardened, and they will be pushing for a better deal - which they will be well-placed to demand. The cost of Hide's redneckery may very well be the very thing he ostensibly wants to avoid: Māori gaining outright ownership of the foreshore as a default, and being able to charge people who use it, just like Alan Gibbs.