Rebel MP Hone Harawira broke ranks with his Maori Party colleagues in Parliament today and voted against the legislation that will replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

The Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill repeals the 2004 Act and the Maori Party considers it has achieved its most important objective.

But Mr Harawira, who didn't speak during today's first reading debate and said he wasn't going to comment until Friday, has previously described it as "pandering to rednecks" because it did not put all the foreshore and seabed under Maori title.

The replacement legislation removes the foreshore and seabed - called the marine and coastal area in the bill - from Crown ownership and gives iwi the right to seek customary title to parts of it through the High Court or negotiations with the Government.

To gain customary title, iwi will have to prove uninterrupted use and occupation since 1840.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson again gave an assurance that public access to beaches was guaranteed under the bill.

"It recognises and protects the rights of all New Zealanders, including Maori, to the common marine and coastal area of this country," he said.

"Recreational interests such as swimming, boating, walking and fishing are a birthright of all New Zealanders."

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia described the bill as "a small step along the way" and said her party had achieved more than it had promised.

The party's other co-leader, Pita Sharples, said the most important thing was the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act and the bill offered "a new way forward".

The Maori Party has previously suggested the bill could be reviewed or changed at some time in the future, although the Government sees it as a durable settlement of the issue.

Labour MP David Parker said the Maori Party should accept the new legislation as full and final settlement.

"If that can't be created in this benign political climate, when can it?" he said.

"We need to move forward."

The Greens opposed the bill, saying the bar to gaining customary title was unreasonably high.

"This legislation differs in name only, it just papers over the same cracks and replaces one unjust law with another unjust law," said MP David Clendon.

ACT also opposed it, with David Garrett saying the party didn't have a problem with iwi gaining customary title through the courts but it did have a problem with "grubby little deals behind closed doors in the Beehive".

Mr Garrett again complained that there was no clause in the bill that made it an offence for Maori to charge for access to beaches.

"People are being denied access now, without customary title," he said.

"In the Far North people are being told 'F off the beach'."

The bill passed its first reading on a vote of 106-15 with National, Labour, four Maori Party MPs, the Progressive Party and United Future voting for it. The Greens, ACT and Mr Harawira voted against it.

It has been sent to the Maori affairs select committee for public submissions.

- NZPA