The Foreshore and Seabed Confiscation 20 years ago and its redneck echo today

Axe in Helen Clark's Electorate Office over Foreshore and Seabed protest

I think it was a Pommie Council Mayor of some banjo twanging whiter than white South Island Orange Free State of Marlborough punk who had started it all.

From memory, the aforementioned European NuZilinder Council had been awarding title to lavish boat houses built upon the foreshore of Marlborough.

These wanky expensive virtue signal boat houses for the uber wealthy had been built up from modest legitimate generational boat houses to water palaces as the rich competed for refurbishment vanity projects.

Now they had these towering architecturally smug compounds, they wanted to sell them and required the paperwork to do so.

The Orange Free State of Marlborough complied which had local Iwi unhappy because as they pointed out, the ownership of the foreshore and seabed hadn’t been settled.

They wanted to sit down with the Council and talk about their interests.

The Pommie led Council said bugger off, we don’t have to talk to anyone and sang the white man marches on.

Iwi said, ‘oh no you didn’t’, and promptly took the case to the Highest Courts for resolution.

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The country held its breath as the enormity of what was being debated was argued.


I remember the Helen Clark interview.

She had been on a flight to Auckland and was immediately met by journalists wanting her comment on the ruling that had been released while she had been in the air.

She was blindsided by the ruling.

The Court had overwhelmingly agreed that Māori had an interest in the Foreshore and Seabed and that Government sovereignty over these while acknowledged, would also demanded similar recognition from the Crown to Iwi over their traditional title. The appeal decision said there was a case to be heard.

Politically it was dynamite.

National had been playing up the fears of the legal action by telling white Kiwis that da Māoris was stealing da beaches, when nothing could have been further from the truth!

It was the Council’s refusal to engage that had sparked the legal action, and National had the racist audacity to portray that as Māori’s stealing something!

Helen knew how dumb white New Zealanders are. She knew there was a deep vein of racism and redneck bigotry in our society and she saw the political capital National had built on this electorate of ignorance.

You could see the immediate political calculation in ruthless real time as she heard the ruling, and when confronted in real time with a camera rolling response you could see in her eyes the horrible arithmetic of what she was about to do.

She simply decided to over rule the Court and legislate to take the Foreshore and Seabed.

She, the leader of the Labour Party, was going to simply confiscate Māori land for political machinations and chicanery.

The gasp of outrage from Pakeha who had watched the issue and saw her decision as an affront to due process never recovered and people broke faith forever with Labour over this

I marched across the Harbour Bridge in protest at this abomination.

Confiscating land was so 1800s. That Labour, my Labour was doing this was blasphemy.

The ructions inside Māoridom created schisms that have never healed between the Māori Party and Labour, it even birthed the MANA Party for 2 electorate cycles.

That Labour would so willingly throw Māori aspiration under the bus to satisfy the reactionary white electorate was a terrible betrayal for many.

In the bridge between Tamihere and Jackson lies the only hope for a reconciliation in time for the 2026 election to work together strategically using MMP.


National’s play 20 years ago was ‘Da Māoris is stealing da beaches”.

Today it is, ‘Da Māoris is stealing da water”.

National, ACT and NZ First all used Māori as a political punching bag in the last election and are passing legislation that will punish them even further.

Our bicultural heritage makes us stronger, not weaker, yet thanks to 40 years of deunionised neoliberal wage suppressing economics, we eye one-anothers pay cheques with envy and fear we are missing out.

The truth is your fears are legitimate and we are missing out, but it’s not because of Māori that you are missing out, it’s because the wealthiest have managed to ensure their interests are paramount which means there’s never the tax take to fund the social services and infrastructure that a civil society capitalist democracy requires.

Sadly in 20 years the debate has only gone from ‘Da Māoris is stealing da beaches’, to ‘Da Māoris is stealing da water”.

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  1. Martyn – Sadly, the current crop of Te Pati Maori MPs tend to be good at wearing hats, and saying charged racial statements…and that’s about it.

    • Get real Nathan our people voted them in for a reason we are the most strategic voters and the political commentators never get it right. And that is because they are often not one of us making them unable to read the mood of our people. The Maori bashing during the last election was some of the worst scaremongering anti Maori rhetoric I’ve seen and heard with kupapa in NZF and Act leading the way. Too many dumb dumbs voted for these kupapa clowns now spinning their bullshit and destroying our beautiful country. Now we all have to suffer.

      • covid is pa – I am wrong about the Hats, and Charged racial statements? True, the Kupapa Maori have not done a lot for many Maori, but Te Pati Maori MPs are similar…

  2. Sadly the reality is that racism transcends all classes & belief systems (even those that claim not to be racist) so politicians have exploited that fault to take advantage of many people’s best interests to serve the wealthy. Your comment “but it’s not because of Māori that you are missing out, it’s because the wealthiest have managed to ensure their interests are paramount which means there’s never the tax take to fund the social services” is so true yet people keep cutting off their nose to spite their face as the saying goes. That’s why my faith is in a higher power alone.

  3. “Our bicultural heritage makes us stronger, not weaker,” well it could have but Jim Bolger said “We are all asian now” and ever since National has implemented an immigration policy to destroy biculturalism.

    “40 years of deunionised neoliberal wage suppressing economics, we eye one-anothers pay cheques with envy and fear we are missing out”.

    If workers can’t control means of production or have labour unions extract some profit back and people identify more as consumers than workers then use consumer unions to extract profit and service back. A network of ACC injured person union, Supermarket users union, Petrol buyers union, Renters union, Kiwi savers union, Hospital patients union, Health service users union, Electric energy users union, all obviously not run by the fake taxpayers union types. And someone should start a “The Real Tax Payers Union”.

    And Aunty Helen gave us the term “Haters & Wreckers”

  4. By voting in National the voters rejected 3 Waters and its underhanded passing of unelected power to Maori. They should be included in any planning as of right but Labour went too far and they and their messenger Mahuta rejected.
    Helen Clark was a good PM for most of her time in power but she made a big blunder with pushing through the Seabed bill .Without it there would be no TPM .

  5. Martyn reminds and sums up some of our recent history really well ….

    I’d like to add that despite … “She (Helen Clarke) simply decided to over rule the Court and legislate to take the Foreshore and Seabed.” … despite that and the accompanying backlash ……

    …. National still ran a racist Iwi/Kiwi election campaign,,, where they dishonestly pretended Helen Clarke was working for Maori ,,,, and Brash ( then leader of the Nats) would work for ‘Kiwi’s’ …..

    As Martyn points out the same dishonesty being played up on and around racist ignorance has and is being used over ‘3 waters’ ,,,,,

    NActFirst want co-governance with corporations,,,,,, achieved through privitisations and globalist ‘free trade’ arrangements.

    It will be multi-national private water corporations and financial corporations who own our water if the NActs get their way ,,,,, and we will all pay more while getting less ,,, which is the only thing privitisation has ever delivered here and in most other countries ….

    But the very few very rich ,,,, make out like bandits gaining more wealth and power.

    That’s Co-governance the NActFirst way …..

    • But under 3 Waters maori would have 50% control of fresh water just like the salt water fishery. How is the fishery run. Quota farmed out to multinational fishing Corp. I can’t see why neoliberal iwi wouldn’t have pumped water to your home via international water corps.

      (Aside. It cost $20 for 2 fillets of fish in Auckland last week.)

  6. Helen Clark’s solution was the pragmatic one. The Key governments seabed and foreshore act opened the door for spurious claims and lo and behold much of our coastline is now under claim. Who in their right mind would invest in marine related businesses under these circumstances – we all lose in the end.

  7. Marlborough? Why would we be surprised? I’ve spent a number of holidays in Nelson, lovely place – but if you see a brown face it’s a bit of a surprise.

  8. The province of Nelson was named after Lord Horatio Nelson, a British admiral who allegedly profited from the slave trade. The province of Marlborough, which seceded from Nelson in 1859, was named after the First Duke of Marlborough, an aristocratic British military commander. These provinces are more than two peas in the same colonialist pod. They are, for practical purposes, a single split pea. (Let’s just say that when they feel the time for decolonization has arrived, Nelson and Marlborough will have no trouble knowing exactly what they need to do). guerilla surgeon’s geography is pretty well spot on.


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