Thursday, November 11, 2010

Foreshore & seabed: Sinking...

It looks like prospects for the government's Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill are sinking fast, with the Iwi Leadership Group - a clique of powerful iwi leaders - rejecting it:

There is increasing division among Maori about it, with the leader of one of the most powerful tribes in the country saying it doesn't go far enough, and the pressure's starting to tell on the Maori Party which admits the bill may not pass.

Ngai Tahu leader Mark Solomon steers the waka for one of the biggest tribes in the country and he has delivered a message on the Government's new foreshore and seabed law: it's not going to work.

Mr Solomon's word carries serious weight; he spearheads the powerful Iwi Leadership Group which represents over 50 tribes.

The problem? The bill's test to gain customary rights is too difficult to meet. Iwi and hapu will have to prove not just that they owned and used an area or foreshore in 1840, but that they have continued to do so ever since. There's an obvious flaw in this test, and that is that if the crown has prevented the iwi or hapu from exercising their rights - for example, by stealing their land - then they are gone forever. In other words, the test stacks the deck in favour of the crown, allowing them to embed and legitimise past Treaty of Waitangi violations. You don't have to be Hone Harawira to recognise that this is unjust and wrong.

As for what this means, with the Iwi Leadership Group opposed the Māori Party are going to have a very tough time supporting the bill. Which means that if National sticks to its rhetoric on refusing to change it in any way, then it will likely fail.

The rednecks will no doubt cheer at that. But they shouldn't cheer too soon. The failure of this bill will not mean the issue goes away. Like the broader Treaty debate, it will never go away until Māori get justice. Instead, it will just mean that it gets relitigated through the coalition process at the next election. And with the expected demise of ACT, the Māori Party are likely to have a much stronger hand then, not to mention be much more willing to play hardball after the failure of their "doormat" strategy. Which will likely mean a much better bill for them.

In other words, Māori seem to have very little to lose by holding out for a fairer deal. As for the rednecks, this may be the best deal they can ever get. They should be careful what they wish for, because they might very well get it.