Friday, 6 November 2009


Matthew Hooton has done one of his finest columns ever for the NBR today. Its explores the fears we hold about access to the foreshore and seabed and why we should be relaxed about it..

We are going to fisk it....

When I am in Tauranga, I stay at the very pleasant Sebel hotel, built on three piers out over the harbour. Its construction in 2006 meant New Zealanders lost access to that part of the foreshore. Up the road is the port, with fences preventing access to the sea.

When I was young, holidays were at Turkey Island, near Coromandel, owned by three family friends. No one ever stopped others landing on the island for a picnic but it would have been odd had they not introduced themselves and asked if it was OK.

Later, my family bought a bach at Northland’s Te Ngaere Bay. We called the next bay Tattersfield’s, after the family that owned it, and it was customary to say hi when strolling across their beach.

Just south was a farm owned by Doug Myers, including a holiday home on a small, secluded bay. With no public road access, it didn’t feel quite right to land a boat on his beach but there was no sign saying you couldn’t.

A short walk up the valley, on Maori-owned land, was a waterfall with a decent fresh-water swimming hole. When we Auckland kids wanted to use it, it was courteous to check with the whanau living there, in pretty much third-world conditions. It was never a problem.

Yip our life has been pretty much the same - Never been denied access to any part of NZ.

Nowadays, my wife and I take our kids to a Pacific Island resort each year. The kids go to the Kids’ Club and we take it easy at the beach. The locals don’t have access to that small bit of coastline but they do have the rest of the island to choose from. They also have jobs.

The enjoyment of my life has never been compromised by limited restrictions on my access to the sea. Nor has any of my privileged access compromised anyone else’s enjoyment of theirs. But the idea there is an inherent right by every New Zealander to access every square centimetre of foreshore and seabed is plainly wrong. No such right exists.

The so-called Queen’s Chain has always been a myth. To simply declare it belongs to the state is to propose a nationalisation and collectivisation of land of which Stalin would have been proud.

Unbelievably, this was exactly the position asserted by everyone in Parliament in 2004, except Act and the Greens. It was a national disgrace.

Abso - bloody lutely.

15,134 km coastline

With just four million people, New Zealand has 15,134 kilometres of coastline, the 10th longest in the world. The exclusive economic zone is more than 4 million square kilometres, the 7th largest in the world.

Listening to politicians in 2004, it was possible to believe the 3.4 million New Zealanders who do not identify as Maori were at some risk of losing access to these resources, whether for commercial development or just building a sandcastle with their kids. Avoiding this risk, we were told, justified sabotaging due process, removing the right of access to the courts and undermining the rule of law.

The risk was never real. The area of foreshore and seabed where it was ever likely a hapu could prove customary title was always infinitesimal compared with the thousands of kilometres of coastline. The Foreshore and Seabed Act, announced unprompted by the Labour regime within hours of the Court of Appeal’s Ngati Apa decision, was a despicable piece of legislation.

It was worse than that - it was venal and evil.

National’s abandonment of its commitment to property rights, the rule of law and civilised race relations was even more vile.

Yip we were gobsmacked that they would not make a principled stand for what was essentially an issue of property rights.


John Key, Chris Finlayson, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples will repeal that legislation and put the shame behind New Zealand, but the myth of a right of access to every square centimetre of the foreshore and seabed endures. There will be pressure on them to enshrine that myth in new legislation, as well as greater or lesser rights for Maori than the courts might otherwise find.

They should resist. No new statutory framework is needed. The courts are the proper place to resolve disputes over land ownership, not parliament.

Further, should a handful of hapu be able to prove customary title to the satisfaction of the courts, why shouldn’t they be able to have that right recognised as freehold title? Why shouldn’t they then be able to decide that collecting tuatua is not the extent of their aspirations, but instead form a JV with the Sebel hotel chain to build a holiday resort? (Good luck to them, of course, getting consents from local councils.)

What possible harm would this involve? It would create an economic base and jobs for a bunch of New Zealanders.

As long as it had a Kids’ Club, my wife and I might even decide to spend our holiday dollars not at the Raratongan but at the Muriwhenua Beach Resort and Spa.

It’s difficult to see why so many in Parliament still seem to think that would be so terrible. Are we really that afraid of Maori economic self-determination? Is socialism really so embedded in our national soul?

Matthew is so right, we need to stop being worried about Maori self determination and embrace it.

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