Just A Quick One: National circa 2004Posted: June 15, 2010
Now to a current problem that gets to the heart of today’s mismanagement of Treaty relations. Just after the closing of Parliament last year, when MPs couldn’t debate the issue, the Government released its proposals for dealing with the foreshore and seabed following a legal decision that overturned 125 years of settled law.
The simple option was to legislate to establish the Crown ownership that almost everyone believed already existed. Instead, the Government has come up with a convoluted notion called “public domain”. On the face of it, it sounds good. But it leaves room for much more than just limited recognition of “customary rights”, and in fact embodies vast powers, including the right to a Maori veto.
First, Government documents make it clear that the proposed “customary title” will allow the development of commercial activity arising from customary use. This “development right” will mean an expansion of traditional customary rights.
Secondly, along with commercial development, customary title also gives Maori a veto power over anyone else’s development, whether commercial or recreational. As I read the papers released by the Government, anyone wanting to build a small jetty on a coastal property where customary title has been established will need iwi consent. And what we know from experience is that this is likely to require a substantial payment to smooth the path for consent.
Thirdly, Maori also gain a new role in the management of the entire coastline. Customary title will give commercial development rights, which over time will inevitably erode public access. In addition, 16 newly-created bureaucracies will give Maori a more dominant role than other New Zealanders in the use and development of the coastline, not only where customary title is granted, but elsewhere as well. All these committees will be taxpayer-funded. Maori will gain access to even more taxpayers’ funds for consultants, lawyers and hui to “build capacity” to take part in this process.
It is not hard to envisage what is going to happen.
The additional costs in any development process will make a small number of people much better off, but will make all other New Zealanders, including most Maori, worse off, by slowing, and in many cases blocking entirely, the potential for development of our resources, especially aquaculture.
There are massive conflicts of interest in all of this, and they will inevitably invite corruption. Under the proposals, Maori can now be owners, managers and regulators, all at the same time, thereby ensuring their own developments can succeed. They can block others if they can show to sympathetic authorities that their customary right is adversely affected. It is astonishing that the Government could establish such a conflict-ridden model. It is an absolute recipe for disaster.