Speaking Out

The Maori Party formed in 2004 around Tariana Turia, a former Labor Party member and cabinet member, largely in response to the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. At the abbreviated hearings about the bill in November 2004, Turia gave an impassioned speech against the legislation. Excerpts from that speech appear below.

The last time that I was granted leave to speak on the Foreshore and Seabed Bill was a defining day in the history of this nation. The nation will not forget the 45,000 who marched to Parliament to describe their utter outrage and grief at the introduction of the bill. And the Prime Minister chose to talk to a sheep.

[That day] we were fleeced: fleeced by a bill that will extinguish another Maori inheritance, this time to the foreshore and seabed, an inheritance that is recognized in tikanga [custom]. Today is another such defining day in our history—a day where a travesty of justice is being supported into law. Whatever “rights” or “redress” it purports to offer, the fact remains that the Foreshore and Seabed Bill takes away the foreshore and seabed from tangata whenua [the first people]. After 1840, most of our whenua was confiscated under various laws, but Maori rights in the foreshore and seabed were never actually extinguished. The bill confiscates what little Maori have left by default.

Indigenous customary title is recognized by common law and affirmed by the Treaty of Waitangi. Both the Maori Land Court and the Court of Appeal agreed that the concerns and claims of tangata whenua concerning the seabed and foreshore should be heard. Instead, what we have seen over these last 18 months is a whirlwind ride where the government is acting in a reactionary manner, attempting to change and override common law, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the decisions of our nation’s courts. Most importantly of all, [they are] attempting, by proclamation, to override the interests of our people.

Customary rights are not an activity. [They are] not limited to collecting hangi stones, and launching waka. It is a development right. It is a property right. The foreshore and seabed has always been open to use and enjoyment for all New Zealanders. Our rights are longstanding. Any extinguishment of those rights is raupatu [land seizure].

Much has been made of the amendments that are supposedly about creating a Day in Court. A day in court is an impossible dream for most Maori. The costs to take a case through to the High Court are exorbitant, probably in the line of tens of thousands of dollars, so most Maori will be excluded.

The Maori Party is adamant that this government should have treated tangata whenua in the same way as all other New Zealanders and allowed due process. The Courts must be allowed to do their job and reach a decision based on the law of the land. The nation tonight knows that the government chose to interfere in the due process of law when it chose to legislate this issue. We know that as soon as the legislation is implemented our people will lose all that they have lived off for the past thousand years.

It could have been so different.

The government could have considered amendments to Te Ture Whenua Maori Act. Amendment of one section in the act would render customary land inalienable, and would therefore provide security for the Crown about the foreshore and seabed remaining in New Zealand ownership.

The government could have chosen a conversation. A meaningful and honest conversation. A conversation based on listening to each other, on integrity, on the principle of justice—not being squashed into a 20-minute submission, which would not be heard. The consistent message from our people was to allow the conversation to take place between tangata whenua and other New Zealanders who have made New Zealand their homeland. Instead, this bill represents a return to the past, repeating practices of confiscation and suppression of our tikanga.

There is an alternative. We have a chance to bring to the nation the possibility of a much stronger relationship among all peoples in this land. A chance for a change for the better. The time is right for decisive action. The next hikoi [march] will be to the ballot box.

Note: In the 2005 elections, the Maori Party received 5 percent of the vote and won four seats in Parliament.

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