The paydirt for the Maori Party in entering into a relationship with the National Party has always been more to do with shifting positions than political alignment. Maori want mana from our political system – and National, very cleverly, have worked out ways to deliver this – even while they seemingly offer a political agenda with very little positive for the vast majority of Maori.
So the new relationship is delivering fruit. The Maori Party’s raison d’etre was getting rid of the Foreshore and Seabed Act – and the recent “independent” review has delivered a resounding verdict – the Act needs to be repealed because it is “simply wrong in principle and approach”.
The Act severely discriminated against Māori. Supporters of the Act claimed there was uncertainty but the Act took away the right to go to Court to have the uncertainty resolved. It imposed extremely restrictive thresholds for the recognition of customary interests and severely reduced their nature and extent. It drew on legal tests that had developed in other countries whose historical treatment of the issue was entirely different from our own. It was simply wrong in principle and approach. The timing and the process were also wrong. It caused much anguish and Māori and to many non-Māori as well.
The Maori Party are pretty happy. Maori activism on this issue, after all, resulted in Aotearoa being told by the United Nations that we’d enacted racist legislation. Tariana Turia deserves congratulations and respect for her leadership role in this – she took huge risks in leaving Labour over the issue, huge risks in working to establish the Maori Party, and huge risks in leading them into a closer relationship with the National Party.
Attourney-General Chris Finlayson continues to describe the Act as unsuccessful and discriminatory, and promises the Government response to the recommendations will consider the interests of all New Zealanders. He has the history, of course, of representing Ngai Tahu in negotiating with the Crown.
What a welcome turn-around from National, for which, I suspect, Chris Finlayson can take credit. Because the National Party in 2004 – alongside a media baying for blood – was an enormous part of positioning the Labour Party on Maori customary rights to the foreshore. To quote the then leader, Don Brash, on the issue:
We will deal with the foreshore issue by legislating to return to the previous status quo – the settled legal situation before the Court of Appeal decision. That is a position where for the most part the Crown owned the foreshore. In so far as there was uncertainty about the situation before, we will clarify the position. Public ownership leaves room for recognising limited customary rights, but we will not allow customary title. If this Government issues such title, we will revoke it.
The Labour-led response in 2004 was cowardly and lacking in any kind of integrity. The review of the Act is a welcome start to repealing some embarassing legislation in a country proud of having “the best race relations in the world.”