NEW ZEALAND. Change divisive law so that nobody owns the sea shore but everyone can use it
WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand has found a new way to end a bitter dispute over the ownership of the country's beaches and shores - by declaring that nobody owns them but everyone can use them.
Attorney General Chris Finlayson said Wednesday the government will propose legislation to end the dispute over whether the country's 11,700-mile (18,700-kilometre) coast belongs to the country's indigenous Maori minority or the entire population. The move is aimed at replacing a contentious law that nationalized the seabed and shoreline in 2004.
"The government proposes that, instead of identifying an owner of the foreshore and seabed, new legislation would provide that no one owns, or can own, the foreshore and seabed. This area would be called a public domain," Finlayson said.
The 2004 law overrode customary rights to the land that the Maori have had as its original settlers, sparking outrage among tribes. A government review last year found the law was unfair because it expunged property rights of Maori tribes exercised for more than 1,000 years.
In 2006, the United Nations called for the law to be repealed or amended so that Maori rights could be restored.
If enacted, the new law would restore the right of Maori to go to court to establish traditional ownership, but would stop short of recognizing legal ownership. It would allow both public access to the shoreline as well as recognition of Maori customary rights to engage in such activities as gathering seafood, collecting rocks for Maori pit cooking and caring for sacred tribal coastal burial sites, known as waahi tapu.
"I think it's a truly indigenous New Zealand answer," Finlayson told The Associated Press.
The Maori contend that the 2004 law that nationalized the shoreline contravened an 1840 treaty that made them citizens under British rule and guaranteed their land, fisheries, culture and language rights. More than 20,000 indigenous protesters marched on Parliament to denounce the law.
Maori make up 530,000 of New Zealand's 4.3 million people and are among its most impoverished citizens.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the party would consult widely before deciding whether to support the proposal, which needs parliamentary approval.
Prime Minister John Key said the plan was "a pragmatic way forward" that returned rights to Maori and retained New Zealanders' "universal rights to the foreshore and seabed."