Concern at last minute law change
MICHAEL FOX, MICHAEL FIELD AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
The Government has made last minute changes to exempt some iwi from a new law aimed at protecting workers on fishing boats in New Zealand waters.
However, while Opposition MPs voiced concern about ''shonky'' deals after the suggested change, Prime Minister John Key indicated last night his discomfort with the exemption, which is still to go before Parliament.
The change was made to the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill by Parliament's primary production select committee, without time for some committee members to respond.
The bill as first envisaged would require all quota holders to use New Zealand-flagged vessels by 2016. It was prompted by a ministerial inquiry into poor conditions on foreign-flagged fishing vessels in New Zealand waters and the exploitation of foreign workers.
The amendment would give the chief executive of the Ministry for Primary Industries the right to grant exemptions to operators whose catch entitlement is ''derived from settlement quota'' - a reference to Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
Last year several iwi privately warned the Government that if they lost the rights to foreign charter vessels they would re-open the Treaty fisheries settlement and seek $300 million in compensation for lost revenues.
Labour's fisheries spokesman David Cunliffe said the changes were sprung at the last minute.
''We were very surprised that on the day of deliberation the Government tabled an amendment for foreign charter vessels which have a ''significant proportion'' of... treaty settlement quota.'' It was not backed by evidence and it seemed a last-minute deal had been done, he said.
Green Party MP Steffan Browning, who sat on the committee, was concerned by the exemption.
''I think there was some shonky goings-on. That's something that deserved much greater discussion.''
ACT's John Banks said the bill was a mess.
Speaking from South Korea, Mr Key said he had not seen the amendment, but such an exemption would be ''challenging'' for the Government to accept.
It was his preference that there would be no exceptions after 2016 which was a "reasonable period of time to ask people to comply". Cabinet would have to take advice and make a call on whether it accepted the views of the select committee.
''In the end what we've seen happening in the past - which is essentially some atrocious conditions where people have been mistreated and not paid properly, treated like animals - is just not acceptable in the New Zealand workplace environment and fundamentally a foreign charter vessel that fishes in New Zealand waters is operating as a New Zealand employer when it does so.''
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said he also had concerns about the amendment, ''as did some of the select committee,'' and he would be seeking further advice.
The bill was yet to be submitted back to the House and changes were likely, he said.
Glenn Simmonds, one of the key Auckland university researchers who helped expose the human rights abuses, said the change nullified the intent of the bill and ''instead it sanctions the continuation of forced labour on FCVs by a privileged group of iwi quota fishers''.
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