Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

3. Foreshore and Seabed—Public Access

[Volume:614;Page:10491]

3. Hon KEN SHIRLEY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: What plans, if any, has the Government developed to counter threatened protests by Māori foreshore and seabed claimants, and can she assure New Zealanders that law and order agencies will not allow these claimants to disrupt or interfere with the public’s normal access to and enjoyment of our beaches and foreshore over the coming holiday season?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister) : I am confident that any breaches of the peace over the holiday period by any person will be dealt with in the normal way no matter where they take place, or by whom.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically asked what plans the Government has. The Minister did not answer that key part of the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The actual question, which the member did not read out correctly, stated: “What plans, if any, … ”. The “if any” was left out of his reading of the question, but it is in the wording I have in front of me here. The Hon Dr Michael Cullen may care to comment if he wishes.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Since a large number of responsible Māori leaders have immediately rushed in to point out that they have no intention of engaging in any such action, the Government relies upon the normal forces of law and order to act.

Hon Ken Shirley: In view of the fact that leading Māori identities such as Matiu Rei have said that the Government policy will force many Māori to take direct action, including protesting on the beach, why does the Prime Minister think it appropriate not to have a plan to deal with those sorts of protests that may disrupt New Zealanders enjoying their holiday season?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Even Professor Margaret Mutu thought that was a bad idea. She has been joined by Hauraki leaders, and a number of other leaders have come out very clearly saying that that would be provocative and likely to lead to a counter-reaction from the great majority of New Zealanders. I suggest to the member that he will find it perfectly safe to go down to the beach this summer.

Dr Don Brash: Can the Prime Minister confirm this morning’s New Zealand Herald report in which Professor Margaret Mutu asserts that in a meeting with a Māori group last week Dr Michael Cullen blamed more conservative Cabinet colleagues for knocking back his plans to acknowledge Māori ownership interests in the seabed and foreshore; if so, can she identify those more conservative Cabinet colleagues so that the Opposition can give them some assistance?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister, I point out that there were two interjections by the member’s own colleagues during that question. That is the only warning I will be giving today. Mr Brash is entitled to ask his question without interjection.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am assured by Dr Cullen that as far as he is aware not many members of Cabinet are more conservative than he is. What he can also indicate to the Prime Minister is that Professor Margaret Mutu is not an expert on what Dr Cullen ever said anywhere.

Metiria Turei: Will the Minister counter those reported threats by confirming that Māori will retain their current legal entitlement to determine the nature and extent of their customary rights, or will the Minister continue to fuel community disharmony by extinguishing that legal avenue and engaging in 1870-style confiscation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It might be helpful if I explain that the position taken by Te Ope Mana a Tai was that Māori own all the foreshore and seabed and have all the developmental rights that arise out of the foreshore and seabed. I do not believe that to reject that is to wind up community resentment.

Hon Peter Dunne: If the Government is to accept that the ownership of the foreshore and seabed should be vested in all New Zealanders, can the Minister therefore assure the House that that means all New Zealanders, regardless of their race, geography, status in life, or whatever, will, in effect, have an equal and indivisible share in the foreshore and seabed of this country?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot give an assurance as simple as that. It is common to a large number of parties in the House that there still needs to be a framework for recognising customary rights, whatever they may be—as there is already in terms of the Waitangi Fisheries customary regulations. Clearly, the people who possess those specific customary fishing rights have rights that other New Zealanders do not have.

Hon Ken Shirley: Given that the Prime Minister initially asserted that non-existing titled land in the foreshore-seabed zone was owned by the Crown, why did the Government create all this public anxiety by floating the nebulous and undefined concept of public domain owned by no one?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I recall very clearly what the Prime Minister said, which was that the perception had been that the Crown owned the foreshore and seabed—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. Unlike the member, I have seen the transcripts, read them, and understood them. Beyond that point, the current statute states that the seabed is deemed to be vested in the ownership of the Crown. It is actually relatively silent in relation to the foreshore. The current legal framework is complex, difficult, contradictory, and clearly not designed to deal with land claims in terms of customary land relating to the foreshore and seabed.