New Zealand overrides court decision giving Maoris the right to own coastline

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The Independent Online

A law to stop New Zealand's Maori population seeking exclusive ownership of the seabed and coastline has put them on a collision course with the government.

A law to stop New Zealand's Maori population seeking exclusive ownership of the seabed and coastline has put them on a collision course with the government.

The sea is central to Maori tradition, and many Maoris harvest food from the foreshore in their tribal areas. Indigenous leaders said the law would contravene the nation's founding Treaty of Waitangi, which guaranteed Maoris ownership of their lands, forests and fisheries.

The dispute follows a court ruling last week that indigenous people can, under the treaty, make exclusive claims to ownership of beaches and seabed. Maoris, who suffer disproportionate rates of poverty and unemployment, are preparing to lodge claims to areas used for commercial operations such as marine farms.

The court decision set alarm bells ringing in the capital, Wellington. Helen Clark, the Prime Minister, said the new legislation would ensure coastal areas were held by the government for all New Zealanders. "What we are faced with is something never before contemplated, which is that exclusive legal title could be given over New Zealand beaches and seabeds," she said.

New Zealand's long coastline is one of its main tourist attractions. Moana Jackson, a Maori constitutional lawyer, said the government's "arbitrary plan" to seize ownership would provokeprotests.

In 1992, the government granted Maoris ownership of nearly half of the nation's fisheries to settle a claim under the 1840 treaty. Margaret Wilson, the Attorney General, said traditional Maori rights would still exist. Indigenous people could use the areas for activities such as fishing, butwould not be allowed to deny access to others. She said that without the new law, there would be a decade of legal battles.

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