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Foreshore submissions end in controversy

5 October 2004

Public hearings on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill ended like they started, with muted protest and Labour MPs having their eyes shielded from Maori anger.

Parliament hosted the final planned public select committee hearing on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill and while the star turn was Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta opposing her government's own policy, others continued the litany of complaint from Maori.

At one stage protesters stood outside the committee room window and waved a large banner proclaiming "no confiscation".

A frazzled committee clerk hurried to make sure no MPs were offended and closed the blinds.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who left Labour in protest at the Government's policy, called for the blinds to be open.

By the time daylight was allowed back into the room, the protesters had been whisked away.

One of the other protests was against Ms Mahuta, with a man removed from the hearing because he refused to stop holding up a small banner claiming the MP had a conflict of interest in the negotiations between Tainui and government over coastal claims.

Ms Mahuta said the protester had one point of view but she would put up her mandate against his any day.

The question over who should own the foreshore and seabed and what ownership means has divided New Zealand in recent times and yesterday was no exception.

Maori group after Maori group proclaimed their relationship with the coast and the customary interests that came with it.

Even those supporting the bill in principle, such as some local councils appearing, didn't like the detail.

One Maori group did tell MPs that they aspired to private ownership and all that entitled them to, but most believed the coastline could be shared, with Maori interests living alongside public access and blocking the coast being sold off.

After receiving more than 4000 submissions, but agreeing to only hear around 300, the committee today received a number of barbed comments from submitters.

Moriori from the Chatham Islands complained that the MPs had not visited when they were overseeing a law that would take ownership of a land locked lagoon off them.

A number of Maori asked for the coast and sea to be held in a trust with dual ownership between Maori and the Government until everyone worked out who had interests in what.

Labour MPs pointed to the bill's ability to recognise Maori customary rights, but Maori groups appearing were united in the call for the bill to be killed.

Committee chairman Russell Fairbrother, given the task of steamrolling the public submission process through Parliament, told submitters that they seemed to ignore the problems of uncertainty that would come from further delay.

One submitter from Hauraki said that many years ago his father had told him "All we are left with is the mudflats".

He implied that the only certainty for him was that the mudflat was now being taken away as well.

Ian Llewellyn

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