John Armstrong writes:
It is still early days and things could yet unravel over the detail.
But if politics is the art of the possible, then Finlayson’s and Sharples’ independent panel’s revisiting of the vexed question of ownership of the foreshore and seabed lays the foundations for achieving the seemingly impossible – an enduring cure for a longstanding political headache.
The panel’s review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act – required under National’s confidence and supply agreement with the Maori Party – has set solid benchmarks within which the two parties can negotiate the provisions of legislation to replace the law.
Good faith negotiations is preferable to unilateral retrospective legislation.
The NZ Herald editorial:
Six years does not seem a long time in the sweep of history yet it is time enough for a change in the political climate. The recommendation the Government received yesterday to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act seems unlikely to arouse the heat and fear that greeted the Court of Appeal’s 2003 ruling on Maori customary claims. Public opinion is probably no less committed now than it was then to the principle that public access to coastal attractions must not be compromised. But the constant assurances of claimants that access is not at risk appear to have become generally accepted.
And it is helpful the panel has stressed that at length.
Politically, the report is a triumph for Tariana Turia and the Maori Party, and the involvement of National in any deal should help limit any Pakeha backlash.
(It is often easier for a party to make radical changes outside its traditional ideological envelope. Labour was able to go much further with privatisation and free-market reforms in the 1980s, before the public rebelled, than National ever could. National was able to get the Treaty settlement process steaming ahead under Sir Douglas Graham in a way that might have raised suspicion if Labour had been in the driving seat.)
Time – and other more pressing issues, such as the economic crisis – have helped put the debate into context.
It is just such a shame for us as a nation that a court ruling which found that, in some rare cases, iwi and hapu could have a set of residual customary rights amounting to freehold title could ever have been allowed to generate so much angst – and racial and political heat – as this one did. The two basic principles – that legal rights should not be unfairly seized and that access to the beaches and freedom of navigation would remain a general right – should have been indisputable.
Colin Espiner blogs:
I’ve just had a very quick read through the Ministerial Review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, which has been released under embargo until 3pm.
It’s three volumes long and runs to hundreds of pages, but in a nutshell what is says is this: the Foreshore and Seabed Act is discriminatory to Maori and should be repealed.
Hardly a surprise, given the panel was hand-picked to provide just such a judgment by the Maori Party – indeed, Pita Sharples threatened to sack it if it didn’t come back with such a finding.
The panel is savage about the Foreshore and Seabed Act, calling it “simply wrong in principle and approach”, discriminatory, and indeed so unfair to Maori that it considers that a Crown apology is necessary.
I have a smile on my face as I think of the look on all the Labour MPs faces as John Key gets up and apologises on behalf of the Crown to Maori – not for something done 150 years ago, but for the actions of Helen Clark’s Government earlier this decade.
The panel recommends a national settlement that gives Maori customary title to the foreshore and seabed, alongside specific usage and access rights to local iwi depending on their claim. It says some form of public right to access and navigation also needs to be written in.
It says that in the meantime, an interim act of Parliament should be passed repealing the legislation, setting up the process for the new system, recognising both Maori title and public access issues, and allowing the Crown to hold legal title until the whole thing is settled.
It’s not a bad compromise, I have to say, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised. I’ve said before that a return to court could be a nightmare for all sides, and the whole thing would drag on for years.
The Government’s response in August will be interesting. Also interesting will be Labour’s response. Phil Goff has, to his credit, been supportive. However I hear one of his senior colleagues has been around the gallery trying to whip up reaction against the report. I wonder if Goff knows of this?