Uniting iwi on water tough: Cullen

By Yvonne Tahana

Former Deputy PM tells Maori and Govt to compromise or talks will struggle.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen. Photo / NZPA
Former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen. Photo / NZPA

King Tuheitia's summit on water for Maori is expected to draw 600 today to Turangawaewae Marae and former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen says the Maori Council and Government will have to compromise.

The purpose of the hui is to seek a common position on water, something that could prove difficult given two divergent currents in Maoridom.

Sir Michael is now a co-negotiator for Ngati Tuwharetoa and was set to speak at the hui but he is ill and will not be able to attend.

He told the Herald the landscape had changed since the council last took its famous land case on behalf of all Maori in the 1980s, as tribes had long been negotiating their own issues.

If there was a case for a national approach, which is what the council was advocating, he suggested it deal with a range of "very basic issues" such as the kaitiaki status of tribes in relation to specific waterways.

That is because the Government would still need to deal directly with smaller groups as each hapu or iwi faced different circumstances in each region.

"Tuwharetoa already owns the bed of Lake Taupo. That puts them in a very different position in relation to negotiating over water rights to people who don't have that kind of position. It's not possible to get everyone in the same bag," Sir Michael said.

Prime Minister John Key has delayed the sale of Mighty River Power until next year over the issue and will consult iwi affected by the sale.

Sir Michael said cutting out the council might not be the wisest thing to do: "The Crown seems to have gotten itself into a difficult position saying it won't deal with the council. I think at some point there has to be some level of engagement. I think in a sense what I'm saying is there is a need for compromise all around otherwise it will get very difficult."

Summit speakers include Dr Ranginui Walker, Maori Council co-chairman Sir Eddie Durie, and Sir Tumu te Heuheu who will givean update on the work the iwileaders group has completed onwater with the Government.

King Tuheitia's spokesman Tuku Morgan reiterated that the point of the hui was to reach a unified Maori position on water. "This is our time and our space and our opportunity to sort out a cohesive strategy."

A spokesman for Watercare Services, the council-controlled organisation which provides water to Auckland, said he did not expect any potential settlement to affect the 15 per cent of water it took from Waikato River.

- NZ Herald

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