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Finlayson wants less emotion to wash over foreshore

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Chris Finlayson
Chris Finlayson

Wellington, April 1 NZPA - Explosive language around the foreshore and seabed issue should be avoided if there is to be a lasting solution to the problem, Attorney General Chris Finlayson said today.

Yesterday the Government said its preferred option to replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act was to declare it a public domain, which no one can own, while reasserting the right of Maori to seek customary but not freehold title through the courts.

The discussion document has been cautiously welcomed by many, but Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said he believed all the coastline should be vested in Maori customary title as the existing law essentially stole freehold title from Maoridom.

Mr Finlayson told Parliament he hoped the debate would rise above such emotive language.

"I think that as we move forward it is important to avoid explosive terms like 'steal' or 'appropriate'. I am keen to seek to achieve a reconciliation of interests," Mr Finlayson said.

"We could all look back to the past and throw sticks at one another, but I am seeking to rise above this and do the right thing for the country."

Labour MPs repeatedly reminded Mr Finlayson that previous National leaders had campaigned hard on the foreshore issue raising concerns that public access to the beaches could be lost to Maori ownership.

Mr Finlayson said things had changed.

"I am the first to admit that it is a different political environment from what it was seven years ago. I think there is a very good opportunity to work through this issue."

Labour MPs today dismissed the Government's proposals as changing very little.

Mr Finlayson said this was not true as they would restore customary titles for coastal areas and allow Maori to claim them in courts.

The definition of what sort of property rights such title would bring and what would be needed to qualify for them will probably be the focus of the month-long consultation process underway.

Prime Minister John Key has said if there wasn't widespread support for alternative legislation the existing Act would remain in place.

The previous government enacted the Foreshore and Seabed Act following a 2003 Court of Appeal ruling in the Ngati Apa case that raised the possibility, in some narrow instances, for Maori customary title to convert into freehold title.

That had the potential to put parts of the coastline under Maori control, and Labour legislated against it.

Widespread Maori opposition followed, and Tariana Turia quit Labour to form the Maori Party.

The discussion document made clear the public domain concept was the Government's preferred path.

Other options include:

* Restoring the right to claim customary title but retaining notional Crown ownership until customary rights were proven;

* Tinkering with the status quo; and

* Vesting ownership in Maori, determining who would hold ownership in a given area, while recognising others' rights.

Under all the options, the parts of the foreshore and seabed currently in private ownership or subject to existing property rights would remain that way.

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