Rhetoric around Maori water claims stepped up yesterday with leading Kingitanga spokesman Tuku Morgan calling Prime Minister John Key "culturally ignorant".
It was his response to Mr Key having rejected as "plain wrong" King Tuheitia's proclamation at a 1000-strong water hui last Thursday that Maori had "always owned the water".
The Government will tomorrow begin its series of consultation hui over the Waitangi Tribunal's "shares plus" concept - a way to give Maori a stake in state-owned energy companies the Government plans to float.
The first hui is with Tainui tribes in Mr Morgan's heartland of Hamilton. But the sessions are invitation-only.
Yesterday, on Marae Investigates, Mr Morgan was asked what he thought about Mr Key saying the King was wrong about Maori owning the water. He replied: "That once again says the Prime Minister is culturally ignorant, and that's unfortunate."
The resolutions passed at King Tuheitia's hui last week called on iwi to halt negotiations with the Crown - they did not suggest consultation with the Crown was out of order.
The Government's decision to consult further has delayed the part-sale of Mighty River Power to March or April in a bid to shore up the Crown's defence against any legal challenge by Maori to stop the SOE share float.
Yesterday, Mr Key said he was confident the Government had taken and acted on the best advice.
It had been recognising Maori rights and interests in water for a long time, he said. "Where there is a fundamental difference is what some iwi believe those rights and interests are," he said on TV One's Q+A.
The PM added that the Waitangi Tribunal saw water rights as a local issue, "so we are more than happy to work with local iwi".
He distinguished elements such as water, wind, sun and air from land, forestry and fisheries. The latter were property rights protected for iwi under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.
He cited article three of the Treaty which he said ensured that all New Zealanders enjoyed the same rights of being a New Zealander, "the same capacity to access those rights".
The Government has identified about eight iwi and hapu as being affected by water used by Mighty River Power and about 20 others affected by Genesis and Meridian.
The tribunal said the Government would breach the Treaty if it floated the shares without providing a remedy or rights recognition.