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  • Māori Issues
  • Margaret Mutu (bio)

The Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, passed into law against almost unanimous opposition and protest from Māori, has continued to have ongoing repercussions both nationally and internationally. Māori are the group most directly affected by the act's provisions, yet our submissions and pro­tests were ignored, with our spokes­persons and leaders vilified as they sought international support against [End Page 233] the ongoing racial discrimination practiced against Māori in New Zealand.

In international forums in particular, governments in New Zealand have always denied that they discriminate against Māori. Yet even the attorney general was forced to admit that the Foreshore and Seabed Act is discriminatory in terms of the New Zealand Bill of Rights. However, with the same arrogance and disregard that governments have always had for the property rights of Māori, the attorney general declared that such discrimination was justified. In other words, the Māori owners are legislatively forbidden from deriving benefit from their own foreshores and seabed throughout the country while others may do so. The government had been unable to prove that it owns the foreshore and seabed in the Court of Appeal. It nevertheless saw fit to abuse its powers in order to confiscate the foreshore and seabed for the benefit of non-Māori New Zealanders using ­legislative theft. Some iwi (tribal groupings) issued statements after its enactment stating that they did not recognize the legislation and would not allow it to be implemented in their territories.

The government's behavior in respect to the foreshore and seabed has now proven embarrassing for the country. Since the legislation was passed in 2004, two reports have been issued by committees of the United Nations criticizing the New Zealand government for its ongoing and active discrimination against Māori. They highlight the urgent need to address deeply ingrained institutionalized racism. In March 2005 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued areport on the compliance of the Foreshore and Seabed Act with New Zealand's obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The report concluded that the act discriminated against Māori. The process for issuing the report had been instigated by Te Rünanga o Ngai Tahu, the Treaty Tribes Coalition, and the Taranaki Māori Trust Board, who called on the committee to urge the government to withdraw the legislation. The decision of the committee included a number of critical comments, including the hope that "all actors in New Zealand will refrain from exploiting racial tensions for their own political advantage"; concern at the "apparent haste with which the legislation was enacted and that insufficient consideration may have been given to alternative responses to the Ngati Apa decision which might have accommodated Māori rights within a framework more acceptable to both Māori and all other New Zealanders"; regret that "the processes of consultation did not appreciably narrow the differences between various parties on this issue"; and concern at "the scale of opposition to the legislation amongst the group most directly affected by ­itsprovisions—the Māori––and their strong perception that the legislation discriminates against them." The com­mittee concluded that the act ­contained "discriminatory aspects against the Māori, in particular its extinguishment of the possibility of establishing Māori customary title over the foreshore and seabed and its [End Page 234] failure to provide a guaranteed right of redress, notwithstanding the State party's obligations under articles 5 and 6 of the Convention" (Bennion 2005 [March], 7).

In March 2006 a report critical of both the government and mainstream media was issued by Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the United Nation Special Rapporteur on the ­situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, regarding his mission to New Zealand in November 2005. It con­sidered a large number of areas in which Māori experience difficulty ­anddiscrimination. While there were positive aspects to the report, it urged important changes. It noted that Māori continue to be denied their right to self-determination and even to collective citizenship as tribes...


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pp. 233-240
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