Parliament passes controversial bill

By Peter Wilson of NZPA

File photos / Mark Mitchell, Brett Phibbs
File photos / Mark Mitchell, Brett Phibbs

Legislation that repeals the Foreshore and Seabed Act and gives Maori the right to seek customary title to parts of the coastline has been passed into law after a passionate debate in Parliament.

The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill passed its third reading today on a vote of 63 to 56.

It has divided Parliament and split the Maori Party - Hone Harawira's opposition to it was the main reason he quit to become an independent.

National, the Maori Party and United Future backed the bill while Labour, the Greens, ACT, the Progressive Party and Mr Harawira opposed it.

Only about 30 Maori supporters were in the public galleries as the bill was passed, breaking briefly into song as the vote was read out.

Sitting with them was a small group who apparently opposed it. One man got to his feet and shouted in Maori before walking out.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, the minister in charge of the bill, said the third reading marked the end of more than two years' consultation and policy development on an issue that had vexed the nation for almost a decade.

"We have had a very long conversation, and one thing that has become very clear is that noise does not always equal principled opposition," he said.

The Maori Party staked its future on the bill, and said it had delivered on its promises to repeal the 2004 Act and restore Maori access to the courts.

"We have honoured our word," co-leader Tariana Turia said.

"The challenge now is to test this new law. The message we have been getting from some iwi leaders is that now that the right of access to the courts has been restored, case law in customary rights may be politically achievable."

Mrs Turia urged whanau, hapu and iwi to grasp the opportunity and go to court to seek customary titles.

Labour opposes the bill because it doesn't believe it will be a lasting solution.

"Only the lawyers are going to benefit from this, precious little else will be achieved," MP Shane Jones said.

"This bill is a betrayal and Maori people have been sold out."

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said the bill was not what National wanted in every respect but the alternative would have been unresolved resentment and ongoing injustice.

"This bill isn't perfect but I suspect it will be lasting," he said.

Mr Harawira, whose appeal yesterday for a two-year moratorium on the legislation so it could be carefully considered by Maori fell on deaf ears, said it was "a sad betrayal" of all those who had voted for the Maori Party.

"This is a racist bill, nearly all Maori oppose it...our sovereignty is lost under this bill," he said.

Despite his fierce opposition to the bill, Mr Harawira forgot to cast a vote on its second reading and nearly missed his chance again today.

He cast his vote in Maori, and Deputy Speaker Lindsay Tisch said the translation represented it as "a view, not a vote".

Mr Harawira protested but Mr Tisch ruled the vote invalid.

National minister John Carter intervened, seeking the permission of Parliament for Mr Harawira to vote again.

It was granted, and Mr Harawira succeeded in having his vote counted.

The Green Party also said the bill was racist because it guaranteed free access to any beaches held under customary title.

Co-leader Metiria Turei said the 12,000 freehold titles already existing on the coastline did not guarantee that right.

The ACT Party tried to delay the third reading debate by putting up 700 questions to the chairs of select committees, a procedure which is allowed and, if it had worked, would have taken up so much time that the bill would not have passed before the 6pm adjournment.

But more than 600 were ruled out of order and the Government made sure most MPs who chaired select committees were not in the debating chamber to answer the others, so they had to be postponed.

ACT deputy leader John Boscawen managed to ask about a dozen pointless questions, wasting about 20 minutes.

Speaking during the debate, he said customary titles conferred on their holders rights over the coastline that no other New Zealanders could have.

"It could be a huge amount of the coast, billions of dollars of mineral wealth, a small group of Maori will have benefits denied to everyone else," he said.

- NZPA

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