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Trust's Kermadec support challenged

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 2/06/2016 By Sarah Robson

A Labour MP has questioned whether one of the most vocal backers of the proposed Kermadec ocean sanctuary has put the protection of the marine environment ahead of indigenous rights.

The Pew Charitable Trust, a US-based non-governmental organisation, has long advocated for the creation of a sanctuary in the vast area of ocean about 1000km north-east of New Zealand.

But appearing before parliament's local government and environment select committee on Thursday, the trust's New Zealand director Bronwen Golder faced a grilling from Labour's fisheries spokesman Rino Tirikatene about Pew's attitudes towards Maori customary rights.

"Which comes first for your organisation, protecting the ocean or recognising indigenous rights?" Mr Tirikatene asked.

Ms Golder responded by saying the ocean can be protected in a manner that is consistent and respectful of indigenous rights, but Mr Tirikatene didn't accept that.

"How can you be respectful of indigenous and Maori rights as you say when you are proposing the overriding of Maori fishing rights?"

Mr Tirikatene said many Maori considered it "disgraceful" that a foreign-funded NGO could come to New Zealand and lobby for the creation of a marine sanctuary.

"I'm a New Zealander, I'm also a treaty partner. I do not come here as a foreign imperialist or any of the other names that certain people have cared to call me," Ms Golder said.

The proposed sanctuary covers 620,000 square kilometres of ocean around the Kermadecs, one of the world's most pristine and diverse marine environments.

Since the sanctuary was announced by Prime Minister John Key at the United Nations last year, the government has come up against opposition from Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Maori fisheries trust.

The trust believes the creation of the sanctuary unfairly extinguishes Maori fishing rights in the area and it's also criticised the lack of consultation with Maori.

In its written submission to the select committee, Te Aupouri, one of the northern iwi with interests in the Kermadecs, said its support for the sanctuary was now subject to the resolution of issues raised by Te Ohu Kaimoana.

Te Aupouri was told about the government's plan to create the sanctuary before it was announced, but it has raised concerns about the level of consultation that was undertaken.

It also has issues with the sanctuary's governance structure and it wants iwi to have a greater level of involvement.

A Colmar Brunton poll last month showed close to 90 per cent of New Zealanders support the creation of the sanctuary.

The poll also found that 86 per cent of Maori back the sanctuary.

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