New Zealand Herald, February 27, 2005

Maori want cut of research profits

Opposition MPs say it is a "repugnant" attempt to extort money from the growth science industry, which will hamper innovation and scare scientists overseas

Lawyer Maui Solomon, leading the Wai 262 Treaty claim over use of indigenous flora and fauna, has now set up a private consultancy to protect Maori property rights. In a letter to Crown Research Institutes this month in his capacity as chairman of AIA Ltd, he sought information on any research being done by the institutes or in partnership with private developers. Crop and Food Research and Landcare Research said they were treating the letter as a standard Official Information Act request. The Economic Development Ministry has set a deadline of next week for submissions on proposed patent law changes, which would establish a Maori advisory committee to address concerns about indigenous flora and fauna. But the bill would not give Maori ownership of plant and animal species

Mr Solomon's letter says: "It is our company's view that while the property rights attaching to native flora and fauna are being resolved, it should be assumed that Maori have an interest in, and an obvious right to benefit from, any research and development and subsequent commercial development undertaken on flora and fauna." "Our intent is not to stop development based on native flora, but to ensure such developments properly account for the interests and aspirations of the traditional knowledge holders and, in our view, the rightful owners of those properties."

National leader Don Brash said the idea that Maori had a proprietorial right to New Zealand's flora and fauna was "quite repugnant and ridiculous". "The very fact of the claim is likely to have a very detrimental effect on science and scientists. I've got no sympathy for the claim. The New Zealand economy is in some senses built on plant life, and it would certainly be serious if research and development were significantly impeded by these claims, or even if scientists felt it might impede their work and therefore they were more tempted to go offshore."

Act MP Stephen Franks said one major developer had told him he was simply taking New Zealand plants overseas for research, to avoid problems with Maori claims. He couldn't blame Maori for giving it a go, but it was these sorts of claims that were the reason New Zealanders were sick of the claims process. "It is completely fanciful." Mr Solomon could not be reached for comment