Monday, September 13, 2010
Mike Butler: Unrepresentative democracy
Of course, the area under debate is the foreshore and seabed, not the beaches as polled by YahooXtra. The foreshore and seabed comprises around 10 million hectares – one third of the landmass of New Zealand. It is the distance between the average spring high tide waterline and the 12 nautical mile territorial limit. Included are the beds of rivers that belong to the coastal marine area. It is also the airspace above this zone and the water, subsoil, bedrock and other matters like mineral wealth below.
The customary title under discussion is a far cry from how the resource was customarily viewed in 1840 – when Maori inhabitants of New Zealand either paddled over in it a canoe or fished from it.
Further proof that the National-Party-led government is trying to get the innocuously titled Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill, which would replace the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, through without too many people noticing came on Monday. While the news media was preoccupied with the Christchurch earthquake, Attorney General Chris Finlayson introduced the bill.
And while proponents of the bill would assert public access to the beaches would remain, neither Prime Minister John Key nor Finlayson would give a clear, unequivocal guarantee that access would remain as is.
Clause 27 confirms the rights of access for every individual, but these rights are subject to prohibitions and restrictions outlined in clause 78, which refers to “wahi tapu” restrictions that may be set out in a customary title. “Wahi tapu” is not defined in the bill, but the reader is referred to section 2 of the Historic Places Act 1993.
If the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill is out of step with public sentiment, it is not the only piece of legislation like that. Former Green MP Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking Bill, that the previous Labour Government passed into law in 2007, intended to reduce the terrible rates of child abuse in New Zealand. But the law failed to address the real causes of child abuse, so the abuse continued, with more than 20 children murdered since 2007.
The ACT Party lodged a private member’s bill to amend this legislation, and that bill had its first reading on Wednesday night. Despite 87 percent of the population deciding, by referendum, it was an intrusion of parents’ rights, only ACT’s five MPs supported it.
New Zealand is officially a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy and lacks a codified constitution. It is not officially an oligarchy, in which power rests with a small segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, or military control.
On the foreshore and seabed, as with the anti-smacking bill, our lawmakers are behaving more like oligarchs than elected representatives. What do you think?
at 7:44 AM