Iwi leaders say they will not write off pursuing water ownership as the Government scrambles to unlink the issue from the partial asset sales programme.
Finance Minister Bill English met major tribal groupings from Tainui, Tauranga Moana and Te Arawa in Rotorua and Hamilton yesterday on the first day of a consultation round on the partial sale of state energy companies.
The NZ Maori Council has applied to the Waitangi Tribunal to halt sales until it resolves who owns water in hydro and thermal power stations operated by the firms.
At both hui yesterday, Mr English was at pains to say the issues of water management and the sale of SOEs were separate.
"The reason is this: the SOEs don't own the water," but they still had use rights, he said.
No one owned water, he added, but water quality, allocation and rights were policy issues that the Government, iwi, farmers and the wider public had to work out together.
That process had been happening for the past three years through iwi engagement and the Land and Water Forum.
Mr English said it was slightly irritating the council had a decade to make a claim, but had chosen to do so now. He didn't think the claims would slow sales. "It is a bit of a distraction because the partial sales of these SOEs won't make any difference to the ongoing [water discussions] between Maori and the Crown about water."
Waikato-Tainui's chief executive Tuku Morgan said its co-management Waikato River settlement had specifically "parked" the issue of water rights for a later date. That conversation was still to be had with the Government, he said.
Mr English would not be drawn on whether water ownership rights in terms of the Waikato River had been dealt with by the tribe's settlement.
A Ngati Rangiwewehi woman said her tribe "totally opposes" asset sales, but was in support of Sir Graham's Latimer's council claim. She argued Maori should own water on behalf of everyone.
"Like the rest of us we want something left for the rest of our tamariki ... whether they're brown, white, black or blue."
Ngati Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu te Heuheu, who will lead an important Maori water conference this month, said the views were useful.
"I think it only affirms what the iwi leaders are thinking ... and of course iwi leaders are exploring all their avenues. [The hui] make it easier to see what our commitment has to be."
Overwhelmingly, those who did address Section 9 wanted it to be retained. Mr Morgan said it protected the ongoing Crown/iwi treaty relationship, and allowed tribes to take the Crown to court if they felt the Crown wasn't living up to its end of the deal.
The pending sale of 49 per cent of four energy SOEs will see the assets operate under a new law. The Government is considering whether to dump, amend or keep a clause which says the Crown cannot act in a manner inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty.