Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Maori Party 'pleased' with PM's meeting pledge

Tariana Turia  of the Maori Party and Prime Minister John Key. File photo / NZPA
Tariana Turia of the Maori Party and Prime Minister John Key. File photo / NZPA

Maori Party co-leaders say they are pleased with their meeting with Prime Minister John Key last night at which they gained a pledge the Government would not legislate against any court decision upholding Maori rights and interests in water.

Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples had previously indicated the meeting was called to discuss Mr Key's comments which they said undermined the Waitangi Tribunal which is currently hearing the Maori Council's bid to halt the sale of Mighty River Power until Maori rights and interests in water are defined.

However after emerging from the meeting late last night Mrs Turia said "the main issue was that this Government would treat our people in the same way the Labour Party did by legislating away their rights".

Mrs Turia was asked whether that meant that should a court decision subsequent to the tribunal find that Maori did have proprietary type right over water, the Government would not legislate against that.

She said: "That was what they told us tonight".

"This is exactly what we needed to have an assurance on. It was the one issue that our people raised with us because of scaremongering by other political parties. That was the concern of the iwi and that was certainly our concern as well.

"We're really pleased with the outcome."

Meanwhile in a joint statement issued by Mrs Turia, Dr Sharples and Mr Key, they said that both parties had agreed that when the Waitangi Tribunal report on the Maori Council's claim was issued that, "as part of developing their respective responses, the two parties will jointly discuss the matter".

However Mrs Turia made it clear that those joint discussions did not mean the two parties would develop a joint response.

"We don't need to agree about these issues and it may well be that the Government will have a different view to us on this matter."

Mrs Turia said Mr Key's comments were discussed during the meeting.

"He has explained that all he was doing was reiterating the law as it stood today and we have accepted his response to that. He didn't need to apologise."

Mrs Turia blamed the media for suggesting "the misconception" that Maori were seeking ownership of water.

"I don't recall any iwi stating publicly that they own water."

She also said that the best way forward for iwi to assert their rights and interests over water was through direct negotiations with the Government. The Waitangi Tribunal was the avenue to pursue those claims when such negotiations were not delivering a satisfactory result.

She did not believe that Maori would pursue a "global" claim for rivers and any settlement that involved iwi receiving shares in power companies was only likely where rivers were being used for power generation.

Meanwhile, Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said yesterday the Government had a good record in recognising Maori rights and interests in water - something the Maori Council appeared to be overlooking.

"It would be quite good if a few people read the statutes that Parliament have passed to see just what we have been doing recognising the rights and interests of iwi Maori in water and acting on it in a very sensible and pragmatic way," he said.

Ongoing work included negotiations over the Rangitaiki and Kaituna Rivers and Taniwha Springs.

"People are genuinely engaged throughout the Crown to try to deal with these legitimate interests in a sensible, enduring and pragmatic way."

Mr Finlayson said he had told Ngati Tuwharetoa - which has threatened legal action to address issues over Lakes Rotoaira and Taupo arising from the sale of Mighty River shares - that the iwi was seen as first in line for talks.

"I don't diminish other iwi when I say that, but they are a top priority and I'm interested in engaging with them ... as quickly as I can."

- NZ Herald

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