Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

PM warned to leave water rights issues to the lawyers

Prime Minister John Key has been told he should either get a law degree or stay quiet about Maori water rights issues.. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister John Key has been told he should either get a law degree or stay quiet about Maori water rights issues.. Photo / Getty Images

Maori rights lawyer Annette Sykes has suggested Prime Minister John Key should either get a law degree or stay quiet about Maori water rights issues.

Ms Sykes is among the lawyers acting for claimant hapu at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on whether state asset sales should be put on hold until Maori water rights are resolved.

This morning, the Crown lawyers were asked by the Tribunal to clarify a 2004 High Court case in which it was claimed the Crown had ownership of water.

Crown lawyer Paul Radich said the Crown's position was that nobody - including the Crown - owned water, and it was possible that the comments referred to were the view of a party in that case rather than the Crown's.

However, speaking to media later, Ms Sykes said the Attorney General's submissions in that Aoraki case clearly referred to Crown ownership rights, which went directly against Prime Minister John Key's continued claims that nobody owned water.

"Perhaps he needs to go and get a law degree, which has been one of my concerns about him since he started talking about this. He really does not understand the complexity of the overlay of rights relating to resources like water."

She said the issue of whether it was believed the Crown did have ownership of water in 2004 was now the "$6 million question."

"That's what the Tribunal has now asked for - what was the Attorney General's position in that case? The Prime Minister really needs to refrain, leave it to the lawyers to answer these questions which aren't easy, and graciously negotiate, statesman to statesman, with Maori that perhaps understand the law of this country better than he does."

Ms Sykes also said Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia should put aside the 'baubles' of her office and remember she is Maori by walking out of the Maori Party's agreement with National over water rights.

As Mana Party president, Ms Sykes said Mrs Turia in particular should have a strong stance on the issue because it was her own Whanganui iwi which was among the first to fight for rights over fresh water. Ms Sykes said if Mrs Turia did not act she was effectively abandoning the fight of her own people.

"I beg Tariana, who I've got the hugest respect for, to sit back and reflect and in the spirit of Che Guevera who obviously influenced her last week, position herself for freedom and the rights of our people rather than to take money as a Prime Minister's friend at the table."

She said both Mrs Turia and Pita Sharples would have to give up a sizable portion of their salaries if they gave up their ministerial posts.

"It's time for them to do that, it's time to forget about money and promote the mana of our people. That's one of the problems - when you're given the baubles of the Crown to sit at a table and you're going to have those baubles taken away it does sometimes impact on moral appropriateness and I'm asking them to put that to one side and think like Maori, act like the rangatira [chiefs/ leaders] they are and stand up for our people."

The co-leaders are due to meet Mr Key this week to discuss his comments that the Government could ignore the Waitangi Tribunal - a statement that has been interpreted as dismissive of the tribunal.

Possible lift in power prices

Meanwhile, an energy industry consultant says putting a levy on water to recognise Maori water rights would result in less use of hydro and geothermal energy generation and push up power prices.

Lee Wilson, a director of energy consulting company Concept Consulting, was giving evidence to the Waitangi Tribunal hearing earlier today.

Mr Wilson told the Tribunal that water was critical for 60 per cent of electricity and 75 per cent of electricity generators were completely dependent on water and would be unable to produce power without it. He said anything that made hydro and geothermal electricity more expensive could push the energy sector to move away from it in favour of cheaper options.

"If a levy or royalties were applied in order to recognise Maori interests it could do two things - it could change the mix of power stations used to generate electricity on a day to day basis and it could change the mix of future investment in power stations by making hydro and geothermal less attractive. Both could have the effect of increasing prices.''

Mr Wilson said hydro power stations needed resource consents to get water permits, which carried a range of conditions such as minimum and maximum river flow rates and lake levels. Those permits were subject to review and the conditions could be changed. Any change to the permit could reduce the value of the power station.

"Future uncertainties are a fact of life but despite the uncertainties investment in hydro and geothermal power stations have proceeded.''

He said it was likely power companies would fight any changes to their conditions which adversely impacted on them.

- NZ Herald

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