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Foreshore law within days

15 November 2004

The Government is planning to ram the foreshore and seabed law through Parliament this week to shut down the most controversial issue of its five years in office.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen confirmed yesterday that that was the Government's plan, barring unforeseen hitches.

But he refused to discuss planned changes till after Cabinet and caucus had signed them off today and tomorrow.

Till now it was thought the bill would get its final reading closer to Christmas, but Beehive sources said the plan was now to pass it into law by the end of the week.

The bill asserts crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed not now in private hands.

National's Gerry Brownlee said the move indicated the Government had done a deal with NZ First, which has said it will support the new law. He said the result would be Labour "getting out the chequebook" by the end of the week to start compensating Maori claimants.

In a clear sign of how important a quick resolution of the issue is to the Government, the prime minister's chief policy adviser Heather Simpson is to stay behind to help steer the law through Parliament, rather than accompany Helen Clark to the Apec meeting in Chile.

In another sign of the toll the issue has taken on the party, delegates to Labour's annual conference on Saturday gave a long, standing ovation to its Maori caucus members after Miss Clark thanked them for staying "staunch on what they consider to be the best interests of their people our people and taking New Zealand forward together".

The bill was reported back from a special select committee earlier this month, but political divisions prevented the committee agreeing on any significant amendments.

However, the Government has a raft of mostly technical amendments to make, and is also considering a recommendation from its MPs who sat on the committee.

That would dump the concept of ancestral connection from the original bill and define more clearly what possible redress including trusteeship could be available to Maori groups who, but for the bill, would have been granted customary title to the foreshore and seabed.

Dr Cullen devoted almost half of his closing speech to Labour's conference yesterday to defending the Government's position.

He said the bill would spell out crown ownership as well as the threshold for what would have been required to demonstrate the existence of customary title, called territorial customary rights in the bill.

He said a model, similar to the Okahu Bay governance arrangement with Ngati Whatua, had clear attractions.

But that should not prevent direct negotiations between the Crown and a group that successfully applied for customary title, Dr Cullen said.

Meanwhile, in a further attempt to clear its programme of controversial issues before election year, the Government has secured agreement for urgency from the Greens for the Civil Union Bill.

Vernon Small
The Dominion Post

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