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Foreshore and Seabed position out this week

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key. Pic: NZPA
John Key. Pic: NZPA

Wellington, March 30 NZPA - The Government won't be able to make everyone happy with its foreshore and seabed proposal, to be released tomorrow, but thinks it has reached a fair deal, Prime Minister John Key said this morning.

Cabinet yesterday approved a discussion document for release and Mr Key told reporters this morning it would be released tomorrow.

The document will put up the Government's solution to ongoing concerns about Maori losing rights to areas of foreshore and seabed that the Labour government vested in Crown ownership.

"In the end if we can't reach an agreement then the status quo will remain. There is legislation on the books. I think it is a weeping sore and I think this issue needs to be dealt with," Mr Key said.

"Yes, it is a difficult issue but if we don't deal with it now then I am telling you a future a future government's going to have to deal with it in years to come and that will make it more difficult, more contentious and more tricky to unwind changes that would have taken place because of the 2004 law."

Mr Key said the Government's approach was moderate and balanced rights for all New Zealanders. He indicated right to access of beaches would be spelt out.

"It has some absolute bottom lines around basically access to the foreshore and seabed and I think the bulk of New Zealanders, when they take a moment to reflect on it, will actually believe this is a better and more constructive way forward than the 2004 legislation."

Mr Key said the Maori Party understood the Government's position and not everyone would get what they wanted.

The Maori Party had attended all Cabinet discussions about the issue.

Following the document's release there would be consultation for four weeks. Legislation would then be drafted for introduction later this year.

The controversial Foreshore and Seabed Act followed a 2003 Court of Appeal ruling in the Ngati Apa case that raised the possibility, in some very narrow instances, for Maori customary title to convert into freehold title -- potentially putting parts of the coastline under Maori control and restricting public access.

The previous government was not prepared to accept that position and legislated against the ruling, causing widespread unrest among Maori and the resignation from the Labour Party of Tariana Turia, who went on to form the Maori Party.

The National Government appointed a panel to review the Act as part of its post-election deal with the Maori Party.

It recommended its repeal and said interim legislation should be put in place until the politicians worked out a way to recognise Maori rights to coastal areas.

The current law sets up a process to recognise customary claims and practices on coastal areas, but many Maori feel it stripped them of rights.

Some have called for repealing the law with no replacement.

This would allow Maori to test their cases in court, but Mr Key has said in the past he did not believe iwi leaders supported this idea any more.

Labour leader Phil Goff doubted the substance of the law would be changed.

"I am expecting them to say they will repeal it and put in place pretty much the same thing. It will be an exercise in political rhetoric, but it won't change the reality," he told reporters.

Last year in a speech about nationhood Mr Goff attacked National for doing policy deals or "pork bone" politics with the Maori Party that benefited the Maori elite and he reversed Labour's support for reform of the Foreshore and Seabed Act saying repeal of the legislation would divide New Zealand racially.

Some compared the speech to former National leader Don Brash's Orewa speech -- which was also titled "nationhood" and said Mr Goff was trying to play the race card.

Today Mr Goff said Labour's position on race relations was clear.

"I think New Zealand has the best records of good and harmonious race relations between people in the world, but that is constantly at risk if people do the wrong thing and if you start trading off as the National Party and Maori Party did on the emissions trading scheme, then you put the good things at risk."

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