19 Sep 2016

English admits sanctuary could have been handled better

11:22 am on 19 September 2016

If the government had its time again it would do things differently on the creation of a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English says.

The government is being accused of rushing legislation through and has criticised for lack of consultation with Māori.

The Kermadec Islands are located about 1000km northeast of the North Island.

Under the plans the area around the Kermadec Islands would be converted into a marine life sanctuary covering more than 600,000 square kilometres. Photo: Google Earth

Prime Minister John Key has said the government still had the numbers to pass the legislation but would delay the bill's passage until a solution was found.

Bill English at a social housing announcement in Northcote

Bill English Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The government is restarting discussions with the Māori Party to see whether it will support the bill.

Mr English said there had not been as much consultation as the Māori fisheries entity Te Ohu Kaimoana wanted to see so the legislative process was put on hold while the government considered ongoing negotiations with the Māori Party.

Though it was a government support party, the Māori Party was advocating strong views, so the negotiations were not the government 'talking to itself', he told Morning Report.

"Certainly in the nearer future we'll be ... going back over the ground with the Māori Party to make sure everyone understands each other's objectives and we get reasonably clear about what the trade-offs [are] here.

"But I think in the long run we haven't come across anyone who doesn't want this sanctuary to be in place - it's really the conditions on which it's in place."

As a general principle New Zealand has accepted that in the conservation or preservation of land or sea there was some "trimming of rights".

"I think there's a case to argue that there could have been a different track for how the issue was discussed with them but I think we've all got to deal with reality.

"If we want conservation of and or sea resource for environmental purposes then we've got to balance that against property rights.

The sanctuary was announced a year ago by Mr Key at the United Nations.

Mr English said the circumstances meant the government proceeded a bit differently than it usually did, and that had helped create a situation where it didn't get agreement of all parties concerned.

"I think if you did it again you might do it a bit differently," he said.

The disagreements might in principle look difficult to resolve but he was confident there would be a way through.

"In practice ... we have found in New Zealand solutions to reasonably challenging issues to do with Māori interests and there's no reason why we can't in this case."

In the foreshore and seabed debate, deep issues of principle had been involved and the government had found a way through. "And in this case I'm sure there can be a way through."