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Easter 'dump' tipped for seabed law

2 April 2004

The Government is poised to announce details of its planned seabed and foreshore law on the eve of the Easter break, a move that would limit public and parliamentary scrutiny.

Beehive sources said the new law was not yet drafted, but it was hoped the Government's latest stance would be unveiled before Easter. Parliament rises for a three-week recess next Thursday.

National Party leader Don Brash said a "dump" of the law change just before the break would be deplorable. "It's very similar to what they did with their announcement in December. They issued that just after the House had risen."

Dr Brash said the fate of the seabed and foreshore was hugely important, and the Government should make public its decision early next week.

"It ought to be able to be debated by Parliament in a considered and careful manner not dropped on us just as we are going on a three-week recess."

Dr Brash said National wanted crown ownership to be asserted and might be prepared to back the new law. "It may well be that we will support it. The issue for us is what else it says."

Associate Maori Affairs Minister Tariana Turia has said she plans to abstain in a vote on the law. But she is tipped to take the next step and cross the floor to vote against the Government, a move that would jeopardise her ministerial rank.

If Mrs Turia does cross the floor she will probably be joined by Tainui MP Nanaia Mahuta. The two have been given a deadline of early next week to tell the Government how they plan to vote.

Even without their backing, the Government hopes to pass the law with support from United Future and NZ First.

It is understood the Government is planning to legislate for crown ownership but will allow Maori to take a claim for customary rights to the High Court. If Maori proved their customary rights were so extensive as to have amounted to exclusive title, the Crown would negotiate a compensation package.

Vernon Small,
The Dominion Post
© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2004

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