The leader of the powerful Ngati Porou tribe has moved to calm fears that a law could ban people from East Coast beaches or put them at risk of big fines for trespassing on them.
Apirana Mahuika, chairman of Te Runanga o Ngati Porou, yesterday said parts of the proposed Bill had been taken out of context.
The law, if passed, would give Maori new management powers over what happens from the Turanganui River in Gisborne, north to East Cape and around to Potikirua in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
It threatens to ban people from East Coast beaches or face fines of up to $5000 if they go on to them.
The deal was negotiated by former Labour Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen in August last year.
Shortly after, the outgoing Labour Government reported to the United Nations committee on racial discrimination, which was concerned that the Foreshore and Seabed Act disadvantaged Maori.
Contrary to Labour's public assertions that the foreshore law prevented Maori from asserting their title to the coast, the report to the United Nations said new processes gave Maori more rights over the waterline.
But Dr Mahuika said that before the Foreshore and Seabed Act was passed in 2004, Ngati Porou had never denied beachgoers access.
"And in terms of our negotiations with the Crown and our own people, we have made it specifically clear that access to the beach will not be closed and that people can still come," he said.
"Part of our korero [discussion] is that once we get the act through we will signage those places that are wahi tapu [sacred areas], so people know they are wahi tapu and respect them."
Dr Mahuika said the deal on the proposed Nga Rohe Moana o Nga Hapu o Ngati Porou Bill would allow the runanga some abilities to make and enforce closures but these were for specific purposes to protect wahi tapu or enforce rahui (temporary ban of activities).
He said a reference to beachgoers being fined up to $5000 was "also a point of contention". This was for a specific context in terms of the Resource Management Act.
"If people continue to flout what has been agreed to by us and the council then, like any other law, people will have to face the consequences of their actions," he said.
"The key tool to our agreement is we will consult and educate people as to what these issues are. We are talking to the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Fisheries and we will be talking with the Gisborne District Council as we work through the issues."
Te Runanga o Ngati Porou negotiator Matanuku Mahuika said the restrictions were "not arbitrary".
"There's nothing to suggest we are going to be indulging in mass closures. We have the ability under the deed to close Mt Hikurangi for up to 50 days a year - at the most it is closed for one or two."
Meanwhile, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson yesterday said the National Government had no intention of backing out of clauses protecting sacred sites, and said it was irresponsible to suggest beaches would be closed to the public.
He said the protection of wahi tapu was a standard part of redress in the Treaty of Waitangi and now the seabed and foreshore agreements.
"Its one of the most important things to address." It commonly involved distinct sites, such as burial sites, rather than wide tracts of land.
National and the Maori Party intend to review the act, but Prime Minister John Key has already said the review will not affect iwi with whom the Crown has committed to agreements, such as Ngati Porou.
Mr Finlayson said it was likely those iwi in the early stages of negotiations would be put on hold while the review took place.
The Crown is in negotiations with four other iwi for similar settlements.
East Coast iwi Te Whanau a Apanui's agreement also has a wahi tapu clause. The iwi is negotiating over the final points of its draft agreement, including the location of its territorial customary rights areas.
Te Rarawa is yet to reach a draft agreement and Ngati Pahauwera - a confederation of hapu centred on the Mohaka River in the northern Hawkes Bay - has an agreement in principle.
Ngati Porou ki Hauraki Trust is in the initial stages of negotiating over areas in Kennedy Bay and Mataora Bay.By Claire Trevett, James Ihaka