August 3, 2006

New Zealand takes measures to protect cultural heritage

Posted at 1:03 pm in Similar cases

New Zealand has passed legislation to protect any of the country’s heritage against any sort of illegal export.

Stuff (New Zealand)

Bill aims to stop national treasure theft
03 August 2006

Legislation passed last night would ensure there was not an Elgin marble-type theft of New Zealand national treasures, Parliament was told last night.

The Protected Objects Amendment Bill was last night given its third reading after getting cross-party support for measures aimed at protecting New Zealand’s heritage objects.

The Protected Objects Amendment Bill was introduced more than a year ago to update the Antiquities Act.

Associate Arts Minister Mahara Okeroa told Parliament the bill was introduced to help deal with the increasing international problem of culture being a “sought after commodity”.

The illicit trade in cultural objects was an international crime industry that ranked alongside drugs, money laundering and illegal arms trading, he said.

“Significant New Zealand cultural objects have been exported without permission in the past and the current legislation provides inadequate protection for the future.”

New Zealand was also a likely destination or transit state, particularly for items from around the region.

The Antiquities Act 1975 had shortcomings in addressing illicit trade, its definitions, its penalties regime, export restrictions and the determination of ownership of discovered Maori objects.

Mr Okeroa said the new legislation established a register of precious objects which could be subject to claims for recovery through conventions if illegally exported.

“A key driver of this (bill) has been to secure reciprocal protection from other state parties for New Zealand cultural objects that are stolen or illegally exported.”

The bill also made less expensive and onerous the process for claiming of ownership of heritage objects through the Maori Land Court.

It increased the penalties for illicitly exporting or destroying “our precious heritage objects”.

Individuals found guilty of wilfully damaging or destroying heritage objects were liable for fines of $10,000 or a jail term of up to two years, or a fine of up to $20,000 for each object in the case of a body corporate.

“Every time an important cultural object is illegally exported, our nation’s heritage is eroded and all New Zealand’s poorer, if not financially then culturally,” Mr Okeroa said.

National MP Chris Finlayson said with this legislation New Zealand became party to international conventions, including one that allowed for a person to sue in a foreign court for the return of cultural objects.

He recalled a case in the past when a government minister had taken a case to the House of Lords in Britain for the return of a treasure taken from his own hapu but nothing could be done.

Mr Finlayson also told Parliament about a former law professor of his who, with his wife, had come across a Goldie painting in a secondhand shop in Toronto.

“And I think they picked it up for a very, very small price because the owner of the shop didn’t realise how valuable it was. But when you think of that, how many protected or valuable objects have been lost to New Zealand because of the absence of legislation such as this?”

He said National hoped the regime would protect New Zealand against the “Elgin marble type situation, where there are many countries which have basically been pillaged of protected objects”.

The fifth-century BC Parthenon marbles, widely known as the Elgin marbles, were taken from Greece and now sit in the British Museum. Greece has been fighting to get them back.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said the trafficking of Maori cultural material had grown with the purchase price for Maori toanga tripling in the past few years.

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