In a sign of the division the proposed replacement for the Foreshore and Seabed Act is causing within Maori Party ranks, members of a Maori Party branch gave differing submissions on it yesterday.
Wellington-based Te Upoko o te Ika branch has opposed the law change, sending an open letter to its party leaders calling on it to drop support for it or risk losing votes.
However, at least one branch member disagreed with the branch stance and gave a submission to the Maori Affairs Select Committee in support of the Marine and Coastal Area Bill yesterday.
Heeni Collins said she had initially opposed it until she read it fully. She said she now supported the repeal of the 2004 Act and provisions allowing iwi to claim customary title through the courts. However some improvements were needed. She objected to the test requiring "exclusive" occupation and use of the coastline by iwi, saying it was unfair and too harsh.
She said it had to be acknowledged many iwi had shared their resources because hospitality was integral to Maori culture. However, she said the tests for continuous use and occupation were sufficient, provided they were applied flexibly and did not involve overly strict requirements such as weekly use of the site. She said it should be sufficient for hapu to show they had retained their customary knowledge for the uses of the resources.
However branch secretary Roimata Tauroa, who also gave a submission, said the bill should not go through, saying it was no better than the 2004 Act and set tests that were too high for most iwi to meet. She said those who marched in the 2004 hikoi had expected more than simple repeal - but it had not been delivered.
Some mining interests also gave submissions yesterday, saying while they supported the overall changes they wanted more certainty for potential future mining of ironsands and oil.
Senior policy analyst for mining industry representative Straterra, Bernie Napp, said the bill risked creating uncertainty which could put off investors. He said it protected existing permits and resource consents but there was no protection for mining companies who currently had exploratory permits who might later seek a permit to mine the area. If an iwi was given customary title over the area of coastline in between, that iwi could then veto any mining permit and waste millions of dollars in exploratory work.
"The problem is changing the rules midstream. It's a bit like someone trying to build a 20 storey building and the city council changing the rules when they get to the 13th floor."
He said while most mining companies already worked with iwi on access, access arrangements were also uncertain under the bill.
Todd Energy senior executive Chris Hall raised similar concerns, saying the objective of the bill was to reinstate Maori rights while also protecting the interests of all New Zealanders. "We have reservations about whether the appropriate balance has been struck in this legislation to the extent it overrides our ability to explore for an produce petroleum in the national interest as well as our own."
Submissions on the select committee have sometimes caused friction among the MPs on it. Chair Tau Henare had tried - but did not succeed - to expel Mr Boscawen from the committee for a question he asked of a submitter, saying Mr Boscawen had insinuated the committee members could not work without bias because they were all Maori.
"I find that a ridiculous thing to think."
Mr Boscawen disputed he had made any such insinuation. He said one submitter opposed to the law was asked by other MPs what loss he would suffer as a consequence of the bill.
Mr Boscawen had asked the submitter if one such loss would be the benefit to all New Zealand of Crown rights to minerals such as ironsands and the submitter agreed. He said he had then asked whether the submitter had confidence in a select committee that could not see that as a loss. He said nothing in his questioning implied concerns about the committee members being mainly Maori.
He disagreed that he had said something wrong but said he was concerned that some submitters opposed to the bill "were treated inappropriately and impolitely."
Mr Boscawen is also writing to the Prime Minister to try to correct Mr Henare's interpretation of his questioning."