Beyer changes her mind on foreshore bill...again

7.00pm

Dithering Labour MP Georgina Beyer has changed her mind on the foreshore and seabed legislation, and says she will now support it.

Ms Beyer recently sought permission from the Labour caucus to abstain on the legislation, despite telling her electorate committee only two days earlier that she would back it.

The Wairarapa electorate committee sent the Maori MP a please explain letter, as her stance was out of line with the feelings of the electorate that put her in Parliament.

Ms Beyer, who has signalled she will not seek re-election next year, swayed back to the Government side of the equation.

Today she told TVNZ's Marae programme that as she represented a general seat, she could not ignore the wishes of her constituents.

"I do not have the electoral mandate to speak for Maori to begin with," she said.

"The electoral mandate I do have is from a general seat constituency, and they have been supportive of the Government's proposed legislation."

The Government was forced to make changes to the legislation to gain New Zealand First support when its MPs Tariana Turia, Nanaia Mahuta and Ms Beyer put the legislation at risk.

Ms Beyer had told her electorate committee's annual meeting on April 5 she had "some personal difficulty" with the way the legislation was going.

Electorate committee chairwoman Denise Mackenzie said "she also assured us at that time that she would be voting with the Government on the legislation".

Ms Beyer did not seek the committee's permission before going to the caucus two days later with her wish to abstain.

"I am a Maori and I am beginning to think my conscience is not easy on the issue," Ms Beyer said, explaining her initial change of heart.

Ms Turia and Ms Mahuta both represent Maori electorates which have given them very strong messages about what they should do.

Ms Beyer deciding to abstain pushed the finely-balanced equation to a level of uncertainty the Government could not tolerate.

It forced the Government to tie down New Zealand First support, giving its leader Winston Peters the balance of power and more say over the legislation than he would otherwise have had.

Mr Peters demanded the removal of the term "public domain" from the legislation. United Future leader Peter Dunne said it had to stay in.

As neither would back down, the Government had no choice. NZ First has 13 votes, United Future has eight.

United Future has held the role of a reliable support party for the Government since the election, and Ms Beyer has undoubted hurt its relationship with Labour.

Ms Turia and Ms Mahuta have until April 27 to make up their minds. Both seem determined not to vote for the legislation.

The bill will legislate for crown ownership and allow those claiming customary rights limited avenues to have them recognised short of private ownership.

It is expected to get its first reading in Parliament on May 5, and it will be sent to a special select committee which will hear public submissions for six months.

The National Party says it will probably repeal the legislation if it comes to power.

- NZPA

Herald Feature: Maori issues

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