Prominent Maori leaders unite to back Kermadecs fight for iwi fishing rights
The fight for iwi fishing rights in the Kermadecs has united several respected leaders of Maoridom - but Prime Minister John Key says he's not worried about their legal action.
Environment Minister Nick Smith has hit back at the Maori leaders, saying they are "overstating the impacts" and "underestimating the opportunities".
Te Ohu Kaimoana, who is leading the court case against the Government to retain Treaty rights to fish in the region, received endorsement from the likes of Dame Tariana Turia, Sir Mark Solomon, Sir Toby Curtis, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and Koro Wetere.
EXPLAINER: Maori fishing rights and the Kermadecs
They backed Ngai Tahu elder Sir Tipene O'Regan's condemnation of the Government's plan to establish an ocean sanctuary.
The "offensiveness" of the plan undermined a Treaty right to development and quota in the region. The issue has lured O'Regan out of semi-retirement.
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He said the Government were overruling Maori rights because of overseas lobbyists pushing an "ideological, absolutist" agenda about conservation.
O'Regan was one of the architects of the 1992 Fisheries Settlement and negotiations in the 80s and 90s.
Key said he did not think the legal action would be a problem for the Government, as the migratory fish could be caught outside of the Kermadecs and a fishing ban would not economically disadvantage Maori.
The decision to put the Kermadecs into a sanctuary was based on protecting "one of the most important areas of ocean in the world", which Maori should support based on their tradition of being "strong advocates for conservation".
"In my discussions with Maori, while they do talk about the treaty settlements and other things, always high up on their agenda is the preservation of the environment and conservation for their mokopuna."
He did not believe the court case would damage the Government's "very strong" relationship with Maori, and there were no plans to slow down the Kermadecs legislation while the legal arguments were heard.
KERMADECS SANCTUARY 'DRIVEN BY KIWIS'
Environment Minister Nick Smith rejected the claim that the new sanctuary undermined the fishery settlement.
"The Government always retained the right to create protected areas where fishing would be disallowed and has done so in over 20 new marine reserves since," he said.
"Some of these reserves have had more impact on settlement and customary fishing rights than the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.
"The drive for this Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary has come from tens of thousands of New Zealanders including the two local iwi who do not want every last corner of our ocean exploited for economic advantage."
Smith said the Government had consulted with the two iwi that had interests in the area.
FOREIGN INFLUENCE 'REPREHENSIBLE'
The US-based Pew Charitable Trusts had praised New Zealand after the Prime Minister announced the Kermadec sanctuary at the United Nations last year.
O'Regan said their foreign influence was obvious.
"Coming in here and pushing us around, and pushing our political leaders around in the manner they have is reprehensible and has to be opposed," he said.
"Most of all, it's the traducing of the Treaty development right that we collectively find offensive."
He said two thirds of fishing investment in "tiaki" technologies to help sustainability was coming from Maori groups.
"Maori interests in fisheries do not have to bow their heads in any degree of whakama or shame over their commitment to sustainability."
Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Maori Fisheries Trust, was awaiting a hearing date for their case.
Maori language advocate Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi said she personally objected to a few people dealing with this situation which had huge ramifications without the rest of the nation.
Kiwis who wanted a marine sanctuary needed to understand ramifications for Maori, and the country, in years to come, she said.
"Treaty rights could be subverted or seen to be not as important in the debate," she said.
"This is not just about Maori being a nuisance, it's about Maori in terms of its development in this country in the long term."
Former Maori Party leader Dame Tariana Turia said they were "all incredibly disappointed" and that the principle could affect any Maori issue in the future.
She expected the Maori Party would give "very serious consideration" to the implications.
Sir Mark Solomon said the fact there was no proper consultation with iwi indicated there wasn't a good enough relationship with the Iwi Leaders Group.
"Is this the example of that new age of working together? That Te Ohu Kaimoana gets a notification a few hours before the announcement was to be made in the United Nations?"