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Friday, July 03, 2009

Long live the commons!

Tariana Turia believes that Labour’s seabedandforeshore legislation was the "the single biggest land nationalisation statute enacted in New Zealand history". Would that the last Labour government had travelled the nationalisation road even further. Re-nationalisation of ACC, Air New Zealand and the railways could have fruitfully been complemented with full government ownership and/or regulation of the vital telecommunication and energy industries.

But the seabedandforeshore legislation was no nationalisation measure. It was the enshrinement of that which already existed; namely it retained the seabedandforeshore, the beaches and the coastal waters of AotearoaNewZealand, as part of the commons of this country. Our town and city open spaces, the National Parks and marine parks, the rivers, the lakes, our coastal waters and our beaches belong to nobody; that is they belong to us all. The seabedandforeshore legislation passed by the New Zealand parliament ensured that particular part of the commons remained in common ownership. Repeal of that law will be huge step towards the private ownership and commercial exploitation of our beaches and coastal waters.

Maori claim customary rights over the seabedandforeshore. Despite all the declamations and protests about “confiscation”, Labour’s controversial legislation preserved customary rights to the seabedandforeshore. East Coast Maori have already had theirs recognised under the law. What will happen to these rights if the law is repealed?

Despite all the assurances that Maori do not seek private property rights over the seabedandforeshore, the Maori Party and the Ministerial Review Committee that has just reported to the government clearly take the term “customary rights” to mean property rights i.e. privatisation: Or, in lieu of that, massive compensation payments.

Corporate Maoridom cannot wait to get its hands on this potentially lucrative asset. The ramifications of a private-ownership precedent in this arena of the remaining commons will quickly become clear. Other corporate interests will soon get in on the act. The example of the destruction of the New Zealand fishing industry, now largely in those very same hands, provides a stark example. Ask the workers made redundant at Sealords in Nelson as jobs are transferred to cheap-labour, off-shore factory ships what they think of tribal capitalism. Money is no respecter of good intentions. It knows no tribal boundaries.

Long live the public ownership (“nationalisation”, if you will) of the essential economic, social and recreational assets of AotearoaNewZealand!

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