Christian World Service (CWS) is the development, justice and aid agency of the Conference of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ). The churches have funded aid and development work since 1945. Currently Christian World Service funds development projects in over 20 countries, provides emergency relief aid, offers educational programmes in Aotearoa New Zealand on development and justice issues, and advocates alongside those who are impoverished and who suffer injustice. CWS is committed to honouring Te Tiriti O Waitangi and 'working alongside Maori for a just and equitable society, which acknowledges in its laws, institutions and public life Maori self-determination' (Partnership and Letting Go).
CWS is concerned at both the haste and the manner in which the government has undertaken this consultation on the ownership of the foreshore and seabed. We have already raised some of these concerns in letters to the Prime Minister and other ministers dated 8 August 2003 and recorded our opposition to the government's proposal to legislate on the matter of ownership. We asked that the government not legislate to extinguish Maori customary title.
Maori have clearly placed their opposition to the current proposal before the government, and as one Treaty partner we believe that the government is obligated to honour their position. Maori throughout the land see this as an attack on their Treaty rights. It is our observation that hapu and iwi have in most cases allowed public access unless for a declared cultural reason. Furthermore, by setting up this alternative process, access to the Maori Land Court is likely to be denied even within the existing legal system. The way this issue has been portrayed is of great concern and the manner in which the government has handled the issue has contributed to considerable anger amongst both Maori and Tauiwi. It is not Maori who have caused this problem but rather the hasty action of the current government.
As an organisation with extensive international networks we are concerned about increased legislation of ownership in such a way as to deny traditional practices. A number of the groups with whom we work are fighting against the individualising of land title which has been traditionally owned communally. Neythal, a partner group whom we help fund, is involved in the Campaign against the Shrimp Industry along the coast of South India. They work with local fisherfolk. The fisherfolk have lost much of their traditional access to the foreshore and seabed, which in the process has destroyed their livelihoods and damaged their traditional way of life. Because the Indian government has allowed the establishment of shrimp farming on a massive scale they can no longer gather fish. Access to land and water has been denied to them and there is considerable land and water degradation. There is much commonality with the current debate because increased commercialisation of the foreshore and seabed is a key reason for the government's course of action. It is crucial that Maori rights over the foreshore and seabed be respected so as not to add to existing injustices.
In conclusion, Christian World Service urges the government to set aside the current timeline and negotiate a fair and agreed consultation process with Maori over the future of the foreshore and seabed. New legislation can only contribute to greater injustice and misunderstandings. This current debate illustrates the need for new discussion and debate on constitutional reform to enable the honouring of Te Tiriti O Waitangi.
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