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Letter to Minister of Fisheries

2 August 2001

Pete Hodgson
Minister of Fisheries

Dear Mr. Hodgson

The decision made at our last MCG meeting to thoroughly debate the legal aspects surrounding the public’s fishing rights in the marine environment offers us real encouragement, as we will be debating the foundation upon which future legislation will be built.

Your offer to provide the Ministry’s legal advice will help to ensure that the debate is transparent.

Unfortunately, it appears that this meeting will have to be held around Friday 7th September, or Saturday 8th, due to the lack of availability of key people and the need to seek our own legal opinions on these matters after we receive the documents.

We share your concerns that the process is progressing too slowly, but feel that your Ministry is responsible to a large degree for lack of momentum. For example, we were surprised to find that although your Ministry has been in possession of legal opinions on the relevant points since before the Rights Working Group process and the Soundings debate, they have left it until this late stage to table them. On the other hand, your officials would have to acknowledge that the option4 position was made abundantly clear throughout the consultation process – i.e. since August last year.

Those officials have also had the option4 submission for seven (7) months. We are disappointed that only now, at this late stage, are we told of the existence of Crown Law opinion papers which seem to be in conflict with option4’s interpretation of the public right.

Because of the tight timeframe this new hurdle has the potential to jeopardise our ability to seek professional advice on the constitutional matters raised by your Ministry. To meet any earlier than Sept 7 would also make it difficult to for us to adequately consult through the option4 network – not to mention the networks of other representative organisations. It is now 5.30pm Friday and although we were led to believe the legal papers would arrive Wednesday we still have not received them.

You have also asked whether we might we move forward on more than one front at a time. The Ministry’s Draft Working Papers 1, 2, and 3 have been thoroughly debated and commented on by option4. These comments were submitted on Friday 7th July and we have, as yet, received no reply from your Ministry.

The Ministry’s behavior is inconsistent with the tight timeframes you have told us we are all working under. We want to go forward, but only in a fully informed and thorough manner – as per the expectations of the thousands who have formally endorsed the principles of option4.

So what is holding the process back? Two, or possibly three, factors:

  1. We are not getting timely feedback.
  2. The Ministry is holding some very important cards until the last minute, making it very difficult for us to formulate informed responses.
  3. Any further hurdles the Ministry may yet raise.

We are as anxious as you to go forward faster, so could you please instruct your officials to fully engage in the process. Without complete, accurate and timely two-way correspondence it is little wonder that it proceeds at snail’s pace.

Please do not think that we are seeking to stall your process, Minister. We are trying to move forward thoroughly and with certainty on behalf of those we represent.

We look forward to receiving correspondence on these matters from your Ministry as soon as possible. We believe that what we have previously offered in comment on its papers allows ample room to move forward in several areas. We wish to establish where there is agreement in order that we can focus on those matters which require further discussion.

Yours sincerely,
Paul Barnes