Barry Soper: Governments slow to learn when it comes to Maori issues

Nick Smith has said the consequences claimed by Maori were overstated, given they don't even fish in the Kermadec area. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Nick Smith has said the consequences claimed by Maori were overstated, given they don't even fish in the Kermadec area. Photo / Jason Oxenham

You'd think Governments would have learnt by now that if they ignore Maori they do so at their peril.

In a row that potentially rivals the foreshore and seabed debacle, which shook the Clark Government, the current Beehive crop seems to have learnt nothing with its plans to set up the Kermadec Ocean sanctuary.

Maori were given fishing rights around the Kermadecs in a so called full and final settlement 25 years ago. The law setting up the sanctuary overrides those rights.

Even though Maori have never fished around the islands to the north east of the country, they're rightly taking their stand on principle. If they allow this through, they argue, then all the other Treaty settlements come into question.

That's put the Government's coalition cobbers, the Maori Party, in the same position that its founder Tariana Turia found herself in way back in 2004 when she walked rather than vote for the foreshore and seabed law that denied Maori their day in court.

That was a heavy handed action that Clark came to regret, not just because Labour's Maori vote haemorrhaged, but also because it reflected badly on what were seen as bullies in the Beehive.

The Kermadec chaos has seen the eggs sizzling on the ruddy face of the minister responsible for it, Nick Smith who banged on about the lengthy negotiations he'd had with Te Ohu Kaimoana, or the Maori Fisheries Trust, and how disappointed he was that they couldn't reach agreement.

But if the negotiations were as blunt as the statement he put out after the deal fell to pieces, it's understandable why they failed. He said the consequences claimed by Maori were way overstated, given they don't even fish in the area.

That of course misses the principle that a full and final settlement with the Crown is just that, regardless of the right the Crown has to create protected areas.

Rather than face the fallout that has the potential to destabilise John Key's precarious hold on power, the issue has now been put on soak and hold while further discussions take place.

Smith maintains the Government remains committed to the sanctuary. If that's the case, and if the commitment's to be fulfilled, Maori should get to keep their fishing rights with an agreement they won't use them, which for them means nothing will change.

And for Smith it means nothing will change either, it'll be fractious business as usual.

Barry Soper is the Political Editor for Newstalk ZB

- Newstalk ZB

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