A draft paper on the creation of the Kermadec Sanctuary was considered by Cabinet earlier this month, but the usual stumbling blocks remain for the Government, writes political editor Jo Moir

Analysis: It’s been seven years since the Kermadec Sanctuary was first mooted and Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker is keen to get it across the line before the election.

More progress has been made this term than last – a draft paper was considered by Cabinet on April 4.

But consultation with iwi and Te Ohu Kaimoana isn’t complete and there are still several boxes to be ticked before a full and final paper goes to Cabinet for sign-off.

Much of the blame for the lack of progress in the last Parliamentary term was put at the foot of New Zealand First – Labour’s then-coalition partner.

But New Zealand First’s position and concerns only echoed those of Te Ohu Kaimona (TOKM) – the organisation that represents Māori commercial fishing interests.

The sanctuary would cover a 620,000 sq km area in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone around the Kermadec Islands, northeast of the country’s North Island.

There is no fishing there currently due to distance more than anything, but TOKM is opposed to it being a permanent no-take sanctuary because of the ramifications that would have for rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

TOKM has been continuing to work with the Government to strike a deal but maintains the sanctuary must balance commercial customary rights with the role of Māori as kaitiaki (guardian) of the area.

Labour’s never had a better opportunity to secure a deal, with no coalition partner giving lobbying power to any of the opposing interest groups, and Green Party votes aren’t needed either.

Last term Green Party MP Eugenie Sage was conservation minister, and the Greens were consulted on any developments as a result, although the sanctuary was still very much under the remit of Parker at the time.

The Greens’ position on what form the sanctuary should take is in line with the international position on marine protected areas, which means a permanent no-take zone.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had tried to convince the Greens last term that a mixed model with some fishing rights was the best option for the sanctuary, but the Green Party had no interest in it.

Some of this term’s Green Party MPs have connections with local iwi involved, Ngāti Kuri and Te Aupōuri.

The various positions of iwi are only adding to the complexities faced by the Government.

While iwi have ownership of commercial fishing operators – the views of those with business interests don’t necessarily align with other views within their whanau and hapu.

With New Zealand First out of the picture, some of the power TOKM was wielding has diminished. It’s possible iwi rights and concerns are now the bigger concern for Parker.

But if the right balance isn’t struck then the Government will inevitably face litigation from at least one interest group, if not many.

Both the Greens and Labour will be mindful of TOKM’s position that preventing fishing operators from being able to take from the sanctuary in the future could breach the Treaty constitutionally.

The National Party still has a member’s bill to create the Kermadec Sanctuary, which was put in the ballot by then-MP Nick Smith in 2018. It has since been transferred to Scott Simpson.

Smith’s bill was born after former National leader Sir John Key first announced the idea with great fanfare at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

Key’s announcement came to a screaming halt, however, after National failed to properly consult with iwi and National’s then-political partner, the Māori Party.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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