John Buckland writes about concerns over access to and the use of our great coastline.
The new Marine and Coastal Area Bill, now in the hands of the Maori affairs select committee, raises questions that are causing unease about equal rights for all New Zealanders to have access to the foreshore and seabed.
The proposed bill places emphasis on Maori establishing their customary rights to wahi tapu as sacred places along coastal areas of Aotearoa.
The bill states that the rights of customary titleholders are clearly set out.
It includes the provision of funds for Maori to carry out research to identify further areas of land and seabed they can claim as theirs. No one would dispute the need for protection of the sanctity of burial grounds.
But there are difficulties for most non-Maori in knowing where such wahi tapu are located as they move to the coastal areas to enjoy summer holidays in many different ways.
To illustrate this situation, areas of the coastline along the Ocean Beach at Mount Maunganui could be identified by members of the Ngaiterangi iwi as theirs by customary title.
In the 1930s, photographs were taken after severe coastal storms exposed dozens of skeletons along the eroded slopes of sand dunes in the area between the Blowhole Peninsula and Rabbit Island. Under the provisions of the proposed bill, appointed Maori wardens paid by the Government will be able to ban people from a "wahi tapu or wahi tapu area".
Is a situation likely to be reached where Maori can ask sunbathers and swimmers to move on because they are trespassing on such land? The terms of the proposed bill state that offenders refusing to comply can be liable for a fine of up to $5000.
In the late 1940s my father, a Gallipoli veteran, still remembering the ghastly months in which he had to help bury his dead comrades killed in the trenches, observed a bulldozer exposing the bones of a skeleton as the road was being widened along Ocean Beach Road.
He reported the remains to the local constable based at the small police station by Salisbury Wharf in case there was evidence of foul play. It was later established that the long-preserved skeletal bones were those of a boy.
As one drives along the Marine Parade toward the Omanu Surf Club, the road has been constructed so that it skirts an area of sand dunes known to be an urupa or burial ground. Is there a likelihood that if customary title is established, iwi members may be able to ban people crossing the foot tracks to the ocean beach from their upmarket beachside homes?
The walking track to the Blowhole at the Mount is extremely popular for thousands of holidaymakers who revel in the spectacle of swirling waves crashing into the rocky blowhole. Right alongside the walking track adjacent to the former Marineland dolphin pool, workmen who were clearing the slope to establish a waterslide exposed two skeletons.
I personally observed the remains with some of my students from Mt Maunganui College when carrying out research on the effects of Marineland on the local environment.
Local tohunga and kaumatua disinterred the bones beside the walking track and reburied them at another location on the Blowhole. It could be disputed whether the bones were those of the local tribe.
They could be proven to be Maori from the eastern Bay of Plenty killed in one of the skirmishes with the iwi members whose fortified pa was on the summit of the Mount, or Mauao.
Is there a likelihood that under the terms of the bill, customary rights can be established and local Maori wardens could curtail the public from enjoyable walks to the end of the Blowhole?
One of the three kinds of rights: "Protected Customary Rights" enables tribal groups under the bill to establish and run commercial ventures without the need for a resource consent or any other form of official approval.
In addition, iwi will be given the power to veto competing interests. No appeal process is provided for in the bill.
Attorney-General Chris Finlayson claimed in the House that access to beaches can be guaranteed to be made free, but this is not written into the bill under Maori customary title.
Such examples in just one small area of the highly popular coastal areas of New Zealand may become subjected to innumerable claims by iwi and hapu over the coming years, funded by the National Government and its ally the Maori Party, which it so relies on to ensure they both stay in power.
No wonder the Coastal Coalition has been formed to challenge aspects of the bill which, unless amended, could take away New Zealanders' rights to enjoy all coastal and seabed areas. No longer are our coastlines and seabed under Crown control for all to enjoy under the Labour Act of 2004. Thousands of signatures to a petition to Parliament are being assembled (see www.CoastalCoalition.co.nz ). Kiwis of all ethnic groups wish to share in mutual co-operation with Maori the blessings of our coastal resources without favour for one ethnic group entrenched by a new unbalanced and discriminatory law.
One of the most striking examples of such unity is the Mission Cemetery on the headland at Sulphur Point in Tauranga. There lie the remains of many of the 2000 British officers and troops under the command of General Cameron who attempted to defeat Maori warriors at the Battle of Gate Pa.
They lie alongside the grave of the powerful Maori chief Rawiri Puhirake who defended the pa with 700 local Maori.
The impressive monument erected by Pakeha in his memory is the most dominant headstone visitors may see among scores of others, both Maori and Pakeha.
No other graveyard shows more poignantly how Maori and Pakeha can share sacred ground in a way that demonstrates mutual admiration and respect.
It is on this principle that the Maori affairs select committee currently considering the bill should avoid creating situations that will generate divisiveness, antagonism and acrimony.
John Buckland is a former principal lecturer in Social Studies at the Auckland College of Education.