Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Key hits back: Maori King 'just plain wrong' on water

Prime Minister John Key says there is no reason for Maori water rights issues to delay the sale of Mighty River Power shares. Photo / Paul Taylor
Prime Minister John Key says there is no reason for Maori water rights issues to delay the sale of Mighty River Power shares. Photo / Paul Taylor

Prime Minister John Key says King Tuheitia's claim that Maori have always owned New Zealand's water is "just plain wrong".

All the advice the Government has received is that the common-law position that no one owns the water stands, he told the Weekend Herald yesterday.

"I just don't believe there is anything we are doing that is legally or morally wrong.

"We are following the best advice, and advice we believe is established in law, albeit that the law is embryonic is this area."

He said there was no reason for Maori water rights issues to delay the sale of Mighty River Power shares.

"It's a Treaty partner relationship between Maori and the Crown, it's not an issue between Mighty River Power and Maori."

Anyone who thought the sale of Mighty River shares and Maori rights were linked would have to believe that Maori could not register their interests and rights in waters used by Contact Energy, a company that had been 100 per cent sold.

"I'll bet you those iwi don't agree with that proposition."

Mr Key was speaking after a second hui at Turangawaewae Marae at Ngaruawahia ended.

The first hui on water issues, billed by some there as "the people's hui" was hosted by King Tuheitia.

In a speech at the end of the hui, the King said: "We have always owned the water."

The hui passed resolutions of unity, decided to establish a group to approach the Government for talks on defining water rights, wanted iwi to hold off any negotiations on water until that happened, and backed a Maori Council court challenge to halt the float of state-owned enterprises if the talks failed.

But that unanimity was weakenedyesterday.

A hui of the Iwi Chairs Forum backed the bid for unity but fell short of backing the other measures.

It is understood motions covering the other issues backed at the King's hui were not put because they were likely to be voted down.

Iwi leaders did not take kindly to the people's hui telling them they should put any of their negotiations on hold.

The iwi leaders approved further talks being led by Tuwharetoa paramount chief Sir Tumu te Heuheu on recognition of water rights.

Mr Key said it was possible the Government could meet the group established by the King's hui, as it covered many groups.

But he couldn't guarantee that such a meeting would be held.

That sort of equivocation over dealing with a new grouping on water makes the likelihood of a Maori Council bid to stop the SOE share float even more likely.

Sir Tumu said after yesterday's hui that two things had been madeclear.

"First, it is for each iwi to determine how they wish to advance the issue of their rights and interests in fresh water, and it is not a case of one size fits all.

"Secondly, our current engagement with the Crown must continue, given the important decisions that are likely to be made by the Crown over the next three to six months in relation to a new freshwater framework for Aotearoa."

It is understood the Government's consultations with iwi over the next month about the "shares plus" recommendation by the Waitangi Tribunal will still go ahead.

Earlier in the day, raised voices could be heard from the hui as it discussed what had happened at the King's hui.

Not all iwi were represented at the King's hui. Ngati Porou and Tuhoe were not there. And Sir Tumu was not there for the vote.

Roger Pikia from Ngati Whao-Ngati Tahu along the Waikato River said yesterday that the bulk of the resolutions would not fly.

The resolution on unity was the only one voted on unanimously by the Iwi Chairs Forum - the rest weren't put to the floor, he said.

"No one is going to devolve their negotiation right to a panel that's kind of been elected from a national hui."

The resolutions weren't "dead in the water", as iwi would go back and canvass the views of their iwi authorities and people, Mr Pikia said.

There was no timetable, but there was an urgency to complete that work and it might happen by the next Iwi Chairs Forum.

Asked if Ngati Whao-Ngati Tahu would take part in the shares plus consultation, Mr Pikia said:

"We all have to do a little more thinking about how in fact we might be individually affected by the privatisation of the SOEs."

- NZ Herald

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