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Opponents astounded as foreshore bill unaltered

5 November 2004

Months of consultation on the controversial foreshore and seabed legislation was condemned as a waste of time yesterday when the select committee considering the bill returned it to Parliament unaltered.

About 4000 submissions were made to the committee, and several hundred were made orally at consultation hui throughout the country.

However, the deep political divisions created by the legislation manifested themselves when the committee failed to reach agreement on any amendments.

It instead sent a report to Parliament consisting of a series of policy statements.

Yesterday, South Island iwi Ngai Tahu said it was astounded there had been no changes made to the legislation a bill which sparked huge levels of protest by Maori, culminating in a major protest march on Parliament.

"It is astounding that after receiving over 3900 submissions on this legislation, with 94 per cent of them opposing the bill in general terms, the select committee has reported this bill back unchanged," Ngai Tahu kaiwhakahaere (chairman) Mark Solomon said.

"In addition to strong criticism of the content of the proposed legislation, submissions were also critical of the process by which the bill was developed, particularly the consultation process.

"These submissions sent the Government a strong message, which they have chosen to ignore."

The bill is the Government's response to a Court of Appeal ruling that Maori could take claims over the foreshore and seabed to the Maori Land Court which could convert their customary rights to fee simple title.

Ngai Tahu has been vocal and consistent critics of the legislation, and Solomon reiterated the opposition of the iwi to the bill in its current form.

"The fact that agreement cannot be reached by those within the select committee adds weight to the argument that Ngai Tahu has consistently presented the courts must be allowed to do their job and reach a decision regarding this case based on the law of the land," Solomon said.

Government MPs on the select committee had recommended dumping a key component of the bill, a provision whereby Maori could attempt to prove an ancestral connection to claim customary rights in particular areas.

Committee chairman Russell Fairbrother said it was clear that ancestral connection provisions were unpopular and would have little practical effect.

However with the committee unable to agree on a final report the Government, in talks with New Zealand First, will draft amendments to be voted on by Parliament as a whole as it moves to pass the controversial law before Christmas.

Labour's Maori caucus chairman Mita Ririnui said Maori members were "reasonably comfortable with where the bill is going".

Each of the other parties on the committee filed separate reports when the bill was reported back to the House yesterday.

New Zealand First wanted it made clear the Crown owned the land on behalf of all New Zealanders.

United Future opposed vesting ownership in the Crown rather than in the public domain. It also wanted the clauses barring alienation of the foreshore and coastline to be entrenched so a change would require much more than a simple majority of the House.

National's Maori Affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said he favoured Crown ownership with none of the "strings attached" by Labour and New Zealand First.

The Green party called for the bill to be withdrawn.

Mike Houlahan and Vernon Small
The Press

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