The Maori Council has closed its case before the Waitangi Tribunal by urging it to find that Maori have full ownership rights over water and to defy the Prime Minister's apparent dismissiveness by expressing that in strong terms.
In his closing submission to the urgent hearing to try to halt asset sales until Maori rights are resolved, Maori Council lawyer Felix Geiringer said the Maori relationship with water was such that if water was land, the courts would not hesitate to recognise it as an ownership title.
"Hapu had in 1840 a relationship with water for which the closest cultural equivalent within modern English concepts is one of ownership, of full-blown property rights."
Mr Geiringer urged the tribunal to find that was the case, saying even the concept of taniwha supported it historically - Maori viewed taniwha as guardian spirits of a hapu's waterways who protected it from use by those who did not own it.
"It's not a joke, it's a very strong indication that hapu was telling the world that this was their water resource and it couldn't be used by anyone else without their permission.
"That is the very essence of a proprietary relationship."
He urged the tribunal to "be brave" in the face of contrary submissions from the Crown and Prime Minister John Key's statements that the Government could ignore the tribunal.
Mr Geiringer said rights in water should be restored to hapu and, where that was not possible because of hydro-dams, compensation was required. Shares alone were not sufficient because they did not allow Maori to have a say in the management of the water.
One possibility to address that was to allow such rights, which could include the right to appoint directors.
Mr Geiringer rejected the Crown's contention that the ability to recognise Maori rights would not be affected by the partial floats of state-owned energy companies, saying political pressure alone would prevent some remedies such as royalties because they could push up power prices and would anger private shareholders.
Ngati Raupani lawyer Kathy Ertel also urged the tribunal to ignore Mr Key, saying that despite his attitude, its words were still powerful and that the Crown had acted with disrespect during the hearing.
She said the tribunal should make its findings clear and unequivocal if it believed there was even a small likelihood that the asset sales would impact on Maori rights.
The Crown will give its closing address today before the tribunal considers its recommendations.By Claire Trevett @CTrevettNZH Email Claire