In today’s Dominion Post, Tainui iwi chairman Tukoiroirangi "Underpants" Morgan obligingly provides all the reason anyone needs to be deeply suspicious of the foreshore and seabed legislation.
Commenting on the announcement that Labour had withdrawn its support for the government’s Marine and Coastal Area Bill, Morgan reiterated that the legislation still had Tainui’s backing.
The biggest issue with the bill, he said, was that it set the bar too high for iwi to prove customary use of the coastline, and thus establish customary rights.
He then said that the main difference between National’s proposed legislation and Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 was that the National bill enabled iwi to go “head to head with the minister in relation to determining its customary rights and interests”.
Precisely. That is the bill’s most odious feature.
It’s one thing for Maori claims to customary rights to be properly tested in open court, but quite another for iwi leaders such as Morgan, representatives of a privileged tribal elite, to do sweetheart deals with the Minister for Treaty Settlements, Chris Finlayson, behind closed doors.
The good news is that thanks largely to a sustained campaign by the Coastal Coalition, support for National’s bill is rapidly unravelling. This is evident from Finlayson’s increasingly shrill attacks on opponents, whom he has labelled “clowns” and “paranoids”.
Only one more MP needs to do a flip-flop before National and the Maori Party lose the numbers to push the bill through. Rumblings of discontent in the National caucus are being reported almost daily. Even Labour has belatedly come around to the view, promoted by ACT and favoured by National when in opposition (in other words, before political expediency persuaded it to cosy up to the Maori Party), that the only place to resolve claims over ownership of the foreshore and seabed is in the courts.