Maori Party claims victory over foreshore, seabed

A recommendation from a ministerial review to scrap the controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act is being claimed as a major victory by the Maori Party and its co-leader Tariana Turia predicts it will be repealed next year.

The review panel's 150-page report said the law failed to recognise Maori property rights as recognised by the courts and advanced the general interests of the public at the expense of Maori.

It recommended repeal with interim legislation put into place until a way to recognise customary rights to coastal areas could be found.

Mrs Turia said it was a "landmark day" which vindicated those who had fought against the Act.

Mrs Turia quit Labour and formed the Maori Party amid discontent how the previous government had handled the issue.

She had no doubts the report would lead to the Act's repeal.

"The ministerial review ... has concluded the Act is built on shaky foundations and must be repealed," Mrs Turia said.

The Maori Party would expect that to happen next year with more time taken to work out a long term solution.

The review recommended Government recognise that Maori with traditional interests in the coastal area have some form of customary title to it and the public have an interest in access and navigation.

The panel sets out a number of possible options to achieve its recommendations including negotiated settlements within iwi and hapu, as well as talks at a national level.

It proposed the Government start with a new interim law that would repeal the Act.

The new law would set up principles and ways to settle customary interests and vest the legal title in the Crown until issues were resolved.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said the Government would make a response to the report in August, but his intention was to ensure the "discord" the Act had created "disappeared".

Prime Minister John Key said whatever decision was taken access to coastal areas would not be restricted.

The Maori Party's other co-leader, Pita Sharples, said access had never been an issue and the Government response would be negotiated between National and his party.

"When we came in people said we had no chance of getting to this position here, so we are really, really excited."

Both Maori Party leaders were open to how customary rights were recognised.

"Customary title is vital, that's our whakapapa, it is our very existence, that is the definition of Maori. So it has to appear in the solution," Dr Sharples said.

The conversion of customary rights into property rights and potential land titles did not mean much because the reality was the customary right belonged to hapu and not individuals, he said.

Maori wanted to have a right to have a say over how coastal areas were run and those who had lost coastal property rights may also be able to pursue claims now, Mrs Turia said.

The Act was one of the most difficult pieces of legislation the Labour government had to deal with in its nine years in office.

It followed a 2003 Court of Appeal ruling in the Ngati Apa case that it might be possible, in some instances, for Maori customary title to convert into freehold title where there had been continuous use since pre-colonial times.

That raised the possibility of parts of the foreshore and seabed being under Maori control, and fears that public access to beaches could be restricted.

The review said the government made a mistake in not appealing the decision if it disagreed with it or letting the courts sort out claims.

The Labour government decided to legislate against the ruling and after months of controversy and protest an alternative process was set up to recognise Maori interest in coastal areas.

The review said the vast majority of submissions were critical of how the previous government handled the issue and wanted the law repealed.

- NZPA

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