The new bill rids us of the worst of current laws, write Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples.
The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill is a milestone for the Maori Party and for Maori people.
Forty-thousand people marched against the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, which confiscated customary rights, imposed Crown title and denied tangata whenua access to the courts to reclaim the inheritance received from their ancestors.
The Takutai Moana Bill repeals those hated parts of the current law and makes other improvements on the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
The new bill acknowledges that ALL coastal iwi have connections to the coast. Their mana tuku iho (inherent authority) entitles them to protect their wahi tapu and to be consulted on conservation and resource-management issues.
The bill allows tangata whenua to seek a grant of customary title, which is similar to freehold title, except public access is guaranteed and the land cannot be sold.
Customary title includes all minerals except gold, silver, uranium and petroleum, development rights and the right to develop a plan that regional councils must recognise and provide for.
To gain customary title, applicants have to meet high threshold tests. This is the reason for most iwi and hapu concern. The tests are less restrictive than the current Foreshore and Seabed Act, although they are still considered by all iwi to be too high.
Under the current act, applicants have to own the land adjoining the beach. So confiscation of coastal land, in breach of the Treaty, was a double disaster. The new bill allows raupatu iwi to seek customary title of the takutai moana. It also says that allowing others to fish on your coast does not stop you claiming "exclusive" occupation and use - because manaakitanga or generosity is part of the kaupapa of tangata whenua.
What is more, the Crown will now have to prove customary rights have been extinguished, instead of iwi having to prove they remain intact.
Mana whenua and many other New Zealanders all want our kaupapa and tikanga to be recognised, but we differ over tactics to achieve that. Do we take a step forward now, knowing there is still a long way to go? Or do we abandon this battle and try to come back later to get a better deal?
We have been advised that should we abandon the bill at this point; effectively, the opportunity won't be presented again because of the high political fallout attached.
No law will give full effect to tikanga-a-iwi. Law and tikanga belong in different worlds. Just as tikanga evolve to meet changing circumstances, New Zealand needs laws which recognise, understand and accommodate the tikanga of tangata whenua.
The Treaty partners must commit to working together in good faith. In the process, rangatiratanga and kawanatanga get to understand each other better. This bill takes us a step forward. It is not all that the Maori Party hoped for but it meets our bottom lines: to repeal the 2004 act, abolish Crown title and restore access to the courts. It doesn't settle the issues but it keeps them alive.
Get rid of Crown title now and open up pathways to carry on debate. This opportunity may not come back for a long time.
There is talk of a march against the new bill. Really? Are people who marched against the Foreshore and Seabed Act now marching to keep it in place? After the march, then what? What is the big plan?
Let us move on from protest to progress. The takutai moana has become an issue of credibility. In a real sense, it is a test for the survival of the Maori Party and the future of an independent Maori voice in Parliament.
Make no mistake - the Maori Party persuaded the National Party to support this bill. We will work with any party that supports the kaupapa of our people. But if we lose credibility, we lose our ability to deliver results for tangata whenua in the interests of the nation.
For a small party, we have achieved amazing results in a short time.
Full recognition of kaupapa and tikanga will take time. The new Takutai Moana Bill does not restore all that we have lost, such as Treaty settlements, but it takes us forward.