The stalled Kermadecs Ocean Sanctuary proposal was not well handled by the Crown, according to former Attorney-General and Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson.

He says former Environment Minister Nick Smith was so keen on the proposal that he ignored obligations to consult Maori and ensure the proposal was properly “road tested” before it was announced by former Prime Minister John Key at the United Nations in 2015.

Key had been badly let down by Smith, and it is to his great credit that he then backed off when significant issues emerged, Finlayson said.

“Many Crown officials still think consultation with Maori is some kind of box ticking exercise designed to bomb proof a decision.

“That is what happened here where the former Minister made an 11th hour call to an iwi he thought would be interested – without consulting me”.

“It was a very poor effort on his part – good process was the first victim.”

Finlayson signed over 60 deeds of settlement in his nine years as Treaty Negotiations Minister.  These were joyful occasions but “always tinged with apprehension that the grand provisions made on the marae by the Crown would be honoured in the future”.

He said settlements will only endure and be successful if the Crown recognises three key points:

  • Agreements must be honoured;
  • Property rights must be protected;
  • Due process must be observed.

This did not happen with the Kermadecs.

Finlayson said he was surprised and disturbed by a lack of understanding by officials of the Maori Fisheries Settlements of 1989 and 1992.  They also did not seem to have much of an understanding of the Quota Management system introduced in the 1980s.

It is important, Finlayson says, that decisions about such proposals are based on science not ideology.  He said there was no evidence of depletion of fish species in the Kermadec zone.  The only fishery of any current scale was migratory tuna and swordfish (around 15 tonnes) which would be harvested to the north or south of the Sanctuary in any case.  The huge area out to 200 nautical miles from the five Kermadec islands – Raoul, Macauley, Cheeseman, Curtis and L’Esperance - is already a benthic protected area which prohibits bottom trawling and dredging.

Finlayson did not think the Kermadec issue would be resolved by further consultation, certainly not the kind of consultation methods employed by the Crown.

Smith, now Opposition environment spokesman, is undeterred and has lodged a Private Member’s Bill seeking to both resurrect the Kermadecs proposal and embarrass the Labour/Greens coalition.

Such Bills are drawn by random ballot and there is no telling when they might be brought forward for debate.

Finlayson says a fresh approach is required – one based on science not ideology, and which is respectful of Treaty Settlements and property rights.  “Durability of settlements and the honour of the Crown are more important than a sanctuary”.

Finlayson will be the keynote speaker at a panel discussion on Treaty and property rights at the Seafood NZ annual conference in Queenstown on 9 August.  He will outline a proposal he thinks could resolve the issue - “one consistent with good science and Treaty obligations”.

Finlayson is also writing a book on the Crown Maori relationship.  It will cover his nine years in Cabinet and will be published in February 2020, the 180th anniversary of the signing of The Treaty.