Wealthy South Island iwi Ngai Tahu has split Maoridom by going in to bat for the Government against the Maori Council's bid to thwart the partial asset sales programme, says the outspoken Labour list MP Shane Jones.
The council's request for a judicial review of the decision to partially privatise Mighty River Power is due to be heard in the High Court from November 26.
It will continue to argue, as it did during urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearings this year, that the partial sale of shares in Mighty River Power and other state-owned power companies will affect the Crown's ability to make redress for Maori rights and interests in fresh water which are yet to be established.
But two months after Maori King Tuheitia's national hui to promote a unified iwi approach to the issue, Ngai Tahu has supplied Crown Law with an affidavit in which it says any such rights would not be affected by the partial asset sales programme.
The affidavit from Ngai Tahu runanga's principal adviser, Sandra Cook, says the iwi considered that it continued to have a full range of rights and interests in water as guaranteed under the Treaty of Waitangi.
"In Ngai Tahu's view those rights and interests were not affected by the privatisation of Contact Energy in 1999.
"Nor does Ngai Tahu consider that its rights and interests will be affected by the proposed sale of shares in Mixed Ownership Model companies."
The affidavit further undermines the Maori Council's case by saying Ngai Tahu believed it was premature to resort to either the Waitangi Tribunal or the courts to deal with the issue.
Mr Jones said the affidavit "splits Maoridom over the vexed issue of water rights.
"People are just shaking their heads in bewilderment at what possible upside there could be for the Ngai Tahu leadership to deliberately split Maoridom and to bend over this far for the National Government.
"What possible gain is there by opposing the other iwi? Better just let it be tested in court and if it's a hollow, empty argument then Maori will know where they stand."
Mr Jones, who last week on Maori Television's Native Affairs accused Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon of treachery for not supporting a united iwi approach, said yesterday that the affidavit "does not diminish the accuracy of what I said".
Veteran Maori rights advocate Mike Smith, who had seen the affidavit, said he was suspicious of Ngai Tahu's motives.
"They potentially weaken what could be a strong, unified national Maori position which I think needs to be developed in regard to these matters."
He said Ngai Tahu's stance was unfortunate.
"It's been the North Island tribes, particularly the ones in the north, that have kept the Treaty issues alive through their activism in the last 30 years or so. I haven't been aware Ngai Tahu has led that challenge but they've been happy to ride that train all the way to the station."
Mr Solomon wasn't available for comment yesterday but a spokeswoman said Ngai Tahu's runanga had "consistently stated it is not taking a position on the partial privatisation of any of the SOEs which are under consideration, and that includes Mighty River Power".