By RUTH BERRY AND NZPA
Prime Minister Helen Clark says Maori are not going to get private ownership of the beaches, but neither is anyone else.
The Government is preparing to announce next week its proposals to resolve the foreshore and seabed controversy and is trying to balance Maori rights against the need to safeguard public access.
Helen Clark said she did not have a problem with customary rights.
"It's not about fish and shellfish. Customary rights to that are in place now.
"My problem is with exclusive private ownership. No one is going to get any new exclusive ownership to the foreshore and seabed."
Her comments come as the Government attempts to untangle both the knotty problem of access and rights to the foreshore and seabed and public access to private land around rivers, lakes and the sea.
Yesterday, a ministerial group reported back on a tangle of laws and confusion over land access. It said the Queen's Chain, an area of land around waterways, had traditionally been considered as public domain but had no defined legal basis.
The Government must promote the "popular expectation of unrestricted public access" along waterways or leave property rights alone.
The Government is also wrestling with Maori expectations over control of the country's foreshore.
On Sunday a group, steered by the tribes that took the Court of Appeal case, claimed it was not the Crown's right to determine the nature and extent of customary rights.
Helen Clark said the statement "would seem to imply that somehow the consent of iwi is required for the Crown to even consider legislating on any matter at all".
While it would consult interested parties and aim for consensus, "the Government gets consent to legislate by members of Parliament, not by anybody else".
Both Helen Clark and Rural Affairs Minister Jim Sutton yesterday suggested that Associate Maori Affairs Minister John Tamihere's claims that "significant chunks" of the foreshore were privately owned were wrong.
Mr Tamihere has been locked in a battle over the issue with National MP Nick Smith, who claims less than 1 per cent is privately owned.
Helen Clark said foreshore ownership was "a very small amount".
Asked if this was about 1 per cent she said, "Could be".
She said the land access report would embarrass National, running a Beaches For All campaign.
The "beach" covered both the foreshore, the land covered by the tide, and adjoining land which people walked on when the tide was high.
The report revealed over a third of the adjoining land was in private ownership.
Mr Sutton, meanwhile, revealed the Government's anxiety about some of the economic drivers behind the foreshore and seabed debate when asked about its connection to the land access report. The latter was about access, while the foreshore issue was about ownership.
"And it talks about the management of the seabed and that is quite another matter which affects the economic development of the country.
"What we are talking about here is private rights of access to recreation and not about people's livelihood."
Herald feature: Maori issues
By RUTH BERRY AND NZPA