High Court action means Maori must be consulted
The initiation of High Court action by several Maori groups means their views must be sought when Environment Southland receives resource consent applications from the wider public relating to certain marine coastal areas.
Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, Te Whanau o Topi and landowners of the Ruapuke Island Group have applied to the High Court to have protected customary rights and customary marine titles in the Southland coastal marine area recognised under the Marine Coastal Area Act, Environment Southland says.
The High Court applications may take years to be decided on by the courts.
However, until those court decisions are made, the Maori groups will need to be consulted when Environment Southland is considering resource applications which fall into the affected areas identified in the applications, Environment Southland says..
The regional council's senior staffer, Vin Smith, said if the applications to the High Court by the Maori groups were unsuccessful, they would no longer need to be consulted and their claims would fall away.
"But if successful, further rights may be conferred on them."
"If they are actually granted the marine title, it means they will likely be provided opportunities to undertake certain activities without the need to obtain resource consent and they will be able to have an Iwi management plan that we would need to take into consideration.
"They will have a right greater than the public in general."
However, Smith said there was an "awful lot of water to go under the bridge" before any particular rights were conferred on the Maori groups.
More than 300 applications had been made around the country, four of which were in Southland, he said.
A report to an Environment Southland committee on Wednesday says if the Maori groups are successful, they will be granted an order recognising protected customary rights giving them the right to carry out activities, uses or practices in a specified coastal marine area
in accordance with tikanga.
They may also be granted an order recognising a customary marine title which gives the holder rights similar to freehold ownership.
However, Attorney General Christopher Finlayson has indicated it will be difficult for most applicants to meet the tests for proving protected customary rights or a customary marine title, the report says.
Environment Southland has lodged "notices of appearance" for each application so it can appear in court and be heard as an interested party.
Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu spokesman Phil Tumataroa said its application, on behalf of Ngai Tahu whanui, was to ensure there was an opportunity for Ngai Tahu whanau to seek to have their rights recognised under the Marine and Coastal Act
"We will continue to work through the processes following this application.
He declined to comment further, citing the potential for the application to be heard before the High Court.
The New Zealand Maori Council was also named as an applicant in the High Court proceedings by Environment Southland, but a Maori Council spokeswoman said the claims had been lodged without Maori Council authority and the courts had been advised.
In May, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said customary marine title was a form of legal interest in land, but was not the same as freehold title and did not turn the land into private land.
"Public access, recreational fishing, navigation and other existing rights of all New Zealanders are unaffected by the recognition of customary marine title in any given area."
- The Southland Times