Foreshore and Seabed

1 May 2010 | JUSTICE

“The Crown is required by the Treaty of Waitangi to act in good faith towards Maori, which must mean honest dialogue with Maori when their rights to property are at stake.” - Anglican and Catholic Bishops statement on the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, 2004

The 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act was a considerable injustice to Maori, and was opposed at the time by the vast majority of the 4000 submitters to Parliament.

Catholic concern that the 2004 legislation was discriminatory was endorsed by investigations undertaken by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people. This was because Maori property rights based on customary title were treated differently to all other private property rights.

We recognise indigenous people as the first occupiers of land, and we recognise also the rights and responsibilities which flow from that. These include both the right and the responsibility for Kaitiakitanga or guardianship of the land. We recognise that Maori Iwi and Hapu are seeking certainty of title that recognises their traditional responsibility for Kaitiakitanga.

We are delighted that the parties in the current Coalition government have worked together to review the 2004 legislation, and we welcome the positive aspects of the new proposals: particularly the recognition that the 2004 Act needs to be repealed; that customary rights extinguished under the 2004 Act need to be restored; and that access to courts to investigate customary title also needs to be restored.

However, a key element of the government’s proposal – to create a new category of ownership called “public domain” – runs the risk of simply duplicating the discrimination of the 2004 Act, by continuing to treat Maori customary property rights differently to the 12499 private titles already granted, which would not be affected. Removing formal ownership from the foreshore and seabed could be a radical act for the common good – but only if all claims to property in the foreshore and seabed are treated in the same way. The government does not propose to do that.

However, there are already disturbing indications that the government is not seeking genuine consultation through this exercise, but endorsement only of its preferred option. Resolution of this issue deserves more than imposed solutions. We are confident that an outcome can be found that recognises both customary title and the public access to coastal areas that all New Zealanders value. Let us not cut the conversation short. Maori have promised access for all to coastal areas. A solution which discriminates between other Maori property rights and private property rights is not a solution at all.