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Foreshore and Seabed Bill reported back

4 November 2004

The Foreshore and Seabed Bill has been reported back to Parliament, but its final shape is still to be determined.

The special committee set up to consider the bill has, as expected, failed to break a deadlock over changes to the bill and no amendments have been recommended.

However reports tabled with the bill this afternoon outlined where the Government is headed with the controversial legislation.

The final wording will not emerge until Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen releases the changes he intends promoting as the bill passes through Parliament.

At this stage it looks certain that the foreshore and seabed will be vested in the Crown, though it is likely there will be new words describing this.

New Zealand First wants to emphasise that the Crown owns the land on behalf and in the interests of all New Zealanders saying there is much confusion over what Crown ownership meant.

The bill was the Government's response to the Court of Appeal saying the Maori Land Court had jurisdiction to hear Maori claims to coastal areas and it was possible that some of these claims could convert to private title.

Many Maori are angry that they will not get a chance to test their claims in court and have said the bill is breaching the Treaty of Waitangi by confiscating the foreshore from their traditional ownership.

The Government says no Parliament has ever envisaged the foreshore and seabed as being owned by anyone but the Crown.

The Government has also signalled it will seek to remove a number of clauses that created unintended consequences for harbour companies and reclamation.

Committee chairman Russell Fairbrother said it was clear to Labour members on the committee that Ancestral Connection Orders - one of the mechanisms to acknowledge Maori claims - were unpopular and had little practical effect.

"Much concern was expressed about how effect would be given to a finding in the High Court of a Territorial Customary Right," he said.

"The Labour members have some practical ideas on how these can be expressed using the provisions of the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act (Maori Land Act) as a model."

The report back today consists of a series of reports from the parties represented on the committee.

There is also a report from the committee's special adviser, Tim Castle, and a 200-page report from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

The DPMC report represents changes officials were working on, but the MPs could not agree on what to include in a rewritten bill.

Ian Llewellyn

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