Like his predecessor in office Helen Clark, prime minister John Key is hoist with his own petard by sweeping Maori tribal claims to Crown assets. Ms Clark, it will be remembered, tried to face down Maori tribal claims to ownership of the foreshore and seabed. Her Labour-led government passed the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 in order to reassert Crown ownership of our territorial waters and all below out to the twelve nautical mile limit. Her government’s legislation was its response to a Court of Appeal ruling of June 2003.
This ruling held that the Maori Land Court had jurisdiction to decide on Maori customary land title to the foreshore and seabed of the Marlborough Sounds, extending to the limits of New Zealand's territorial sea, under the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993.
Much good the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 did Ms Clark, spawning in the process the Maori Party and earning no gratitude for all the millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded danegelding expended in building Maori tribes flash modern marae facilities up and down the country.
The experience should have been an important lesson to any subsequent New Zealand government that there is no end to Maori tribal claims under appeasement policies.
These claims have as their objective the maximum possible restoration of all alleged Maori tribal powers, rights, titles, prerogatives and sovereignty dating back from the pre-European period.
Now Mr Key is trying to make headway with his signature policy of partial selldown of state-owned enterprises as newly authorised by the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act 2012.
This latest piece of parliamentary force majeur has the same smell of feckless hubris about it that afflicted the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004.
Maori tribal claims to freshwater ownership rights have the potential to do the sort of damage to Mr Key’s mixed ownership model that their claims to seawater ownership rights did to Ms Clark’s foreshore and seabed law.
On top of an urgent application currently before the Waitangi Tribunal about Maori ownership of water rights, in late June the Supreme Court served up its judgement over Paki v Attorney General.
Lawyer Mai Chen wrote of the court’s decision in Paki v Attorney General to favour Maori tribal claims to own a section of the Waikato River bed at Pouakani that it “opens up the potential for iwi to claim ownership rights to riverbeds.”
Mr Key’s only tactic evident so far is to go into the sort of blunt denial that was heard from Ms Clark over the foreshore and seabed.
The bizarre thing is Mr Key’s own essential role in setting up the ruin of his government’s ability to sell down state-owned assets without the Crown and by extension the New Zealand public being laid open to more legalised looting by Maori.
After all, it was Mr Key, fronted by his attorney general Christopher Finlayson who has just lost the Paki case, who replaced the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 with the outrageous Maori tribal appeasement gambit of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011.
Treaty-industry lawyer Mr Finlayson in particular made a speciality of sneering at people who opposed the replacement legislation, but of greater interest was that Maori tribes took the view that they could get more benefit out of “Finlayson’s law” than the Clark-era act it superseded.
Then Mr Key let Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples sneak off secretly to New York to sign New Zealand up to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) in April 2010 and laughed off the consequences when asked about them.
Suddenly, thanks to DRIP, every part-Maori is officially an UN-authenticated indigene with rights that precede and supervene on those of all other New Zealanders.
In his media release of the time, Mr Sharples stated, “The Declaration is entirely consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, and our statement of support for the Declaration acknowledges the central role of the Treaty in New Zealand's past, present and future.”
In other words, there can be no finality to Maori tribal claims, which extend into the infinite future, notwithstanding the false assurances and expressions of bravado from Mr Key.
Mr Key, in cahoots with Mr Finlayson, has set off an expectation spiral among Maori tribes who intend to undertake aggressive racially motivated expansion of their rights and assets at the expense of the Crown and by extension all New Zealanders who cannot claim a Maori ancestor somewhere along the line.
If Mr Key is given to feeling some degree of frustration as his precious state-owned asset sell down runs headlong into the Treaty of Waitangi cargo cult and his attorney general loses critical race-based court cases, he need only look into the mirror to find the prime architect of his plight.
First published in the National Business Review, July 13, 2012