Legislation that will replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act could become law by the end of the week, and in Parliament today parties opposed to it were preparing to fight it to the last clause.
The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill repeals the 2004 Act and replaces it with legislation that returns to Maori the right to seek customary title to parts of the coastline through the High Court or by negotiation with the Government.
It is supported by National, the Maori Party and United Future, which gives the Government a slender majority.
The bill is opposed by all the other parties, and when the debate on its committee stage began today they set out their entrenched positions.
"It makes a farce of the democratic process," Labour leader Phil Goff said.
"We should be trying to find common ground...instead, this is a political deal between the Maori Party and the National Party."
Mr Goff said Prime Minister John Key had said when the bill was first drafted that it would be withdrawn if it did not have broad support.
"John Key has reneged on his undertaking...4500 submissions to the select committee strongly opposed the bill, a cross-section of New Zealanders," he said.
"The Maori Party has been split asunder because they couldn't reach agreement among themselves."
ACT's John Boscawen said the Government had ignored all the arguments put up against the bill.
"We know it doesn't have widespread support, the suggestion that it does is absolute fiction," he said.
The Greens oppose the bill because they say it discriminates against Maori.
The bill guarantees access to beaches held under customary title, and Green's co-leader Metiria Turei said that didn't apply to the 12,000 private freehold titles which already existed on the coastline.
"It is racial discrimination in law, that is what this bill is doing," she said.
"Freehold titles are protected from public access, customary title is being treated as a lesser form of title."
Former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, who quit the party last month mainly over his opposition to the bill and is now an independent, again said it was racist and again complained about the test for customary title -- uninterrupted and exclusive use and occupation since 1840.
"This bill is setting a test that is so high that no whanau and no hapu can even afford to contemplate going to court, it is that difficult to prove," he said.
"Land was taken illegally, but it doesn't apply in this situation. It still means Maori don't have the ability to get the foreshore and seabed back."
Before the debate began the Maori Party announced its total commitment to the bill.
"This is the culmination of seven years' work for us," said co-leader Tariana Turia.
"We set out to achieve repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act from the moment the Maori Party was formed - this week, we are on the brink of fulfilling our commitment."
The party's other co-leader, Pita Sharples, said negotiations with the Government had been hard at times.
"It does not achieve everything we want but it creates a pathway forward to a resolution," he said.
"The responsibility of being in government is to act in the national interest, which this bill does by recognising Maori rights and protecting public access."
Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, who is in charge of the bill, said earlier today he hoped it would be passed this week but opposition parties might use delaying tactics that could push the debate into next week.
If it does get through this week, a protest hikoi that has left Northland might not arrive in Wellington before it becomes law.
- NZPABy Peter Wilson of NZPA