Maori fishing quota


Maori quota holders try to sidestep foreign-worker law.

But ‘no exemption for Maori’ says Minister

By Paul Knowles

Credit where it’s due. The National-led government can take a bow if it refuses to bend to the ‘blackmail’ of Maori iwi attempting to use the ‘poverty’ or the Treaty of Waitangi cards to wriggle out of their moral duties regarding the fair treatment of foreign fishing workers.

The nation was alerted to the Maori tactics in a story (NZ Herald, July 27, 2013) that told readers that Maori fishing quota holders would be exempt from legislation designed to protect migrant workers on foreign chartered vessels from exploitation.

Maori were to be given a seven-year exemption – a privilege that was attacked by ACT MP John Banks but defended as essential by the iwi.

The exemption, until 2020, was included in the proposed Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) amendment legislation. New Zealand laws will apply on board the ships. In order for that to happen, the bill, now at select committee stage, says foreign vessels operating in New Zealand waters will have to re-flag and register here by 2016.

The proposed new law has resulted after a ministerial enquiry into allegations of mistreatment and underpayment for foreign workers on such ships. The enquiry decided that major changes were needed to protect New Zealand’s reputation.

But, at present, a Maori exemption is to apply in the case of ships that hold settlement quota – provided for under the 1992 Sealords Treaty settlement – if they can show that the quota is a “significant proportion” of all annual catch entitlement.

However, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, under some pressure, has now said (NZ Herald, Aug 1) he will dump the Maori exemption.

“It is important for our trading partners to know that we have unequivocally stamped out bad behaviour on our waters,” said Mr Guy. “I don’t think the amended bill, as it stands, meets this objective.”

Notably, Council of Trade Unions’ Maori spokesman Syd Keepa said the organisation could not support exemptions that “allow some ships to continue with slave labour conditions.”

However, according to Ngapuhi spokesman Sonny Tau, the exemption is essential because without it, Maori fishing interests guaranteed under the Sealords deal would be severely devalued. Operations would be uneconomical. He also claimed that not a single iwi could afford to buy a ship.

Two points arise from this. Should the New Zealand taxpayer be perpetually responsible for decisions made more than 20 years ago, and amidst ever-changing international financial and trading conditions?

Also, considering the large amounts of settlement monies and privilege paid over to iwi in the Sealords deal, is it really feasible that they cannot afford to own a ship and provide jobs by crewing it with their own people – as was envisaged by some?

Interestingly, fisheries giant Talleys also objected to the Maori exemption, saying it allowed iwi to use foreign labour rather than develop a Maori industry.

It was research by Auckland University Business School academic Glenn Simmons that first revealed the human rights violations on board some foreign vessels in our waters. Calling it “bloody appalling,” Mr Simmons has decried the three years of grace that is being given to fishing businesses in general to re-flag, let alone the 2020 Maori exemption.

As for Minister Guy’s promise to act, we’ll all ‘watch this space’ with bated breath.

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