An opportunistic grab for a handout or a principled stand for collective rights? John Key will feel on safe political ground in rejecting the Maori Council's water rights claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, portraying it directly as an 'us and them', Maori vs the rest issue: 'As (chairman) Maanu Paul said last night, the reason is they want you all to pay for that. He said you need to pay for their water' - see Danya Levy's Key rejects Maori water claim in asset sales battle.The claimants have a very different view, saying the privatisation of the assets has forced them to take action: 'Mr Wihapi says Maori have been quite comfortable for years with the Government and its agencies using natural resources for the benefit of the whole nation. But he says things have now become serious, because tribal property is set to be stolen' - see Radio NZ's Hapu blames Govt for water rights claim.

While the Tribunal and, almost inevitably, the courts will have to decide what rights actually exist, the underlying principle that the Maori Council is arguing is the same as has been agreed on many previous claims. Resources that iwi gifted or allowed the state to use for the public good are reclaimed once the collective benefit ceases and this has been the case with vast tracts of land used for schools, railways, roads and parks across the country. Tracy Watkins warns that history suggests the issue might not be as easy to dismiss as the PM thinks - see: Claim on water case of déjà vu. That's a view shared by economist and treaty scholar Brian Easton: 'If the Government were to ignore those property rights, then I think there could well be the same sort of anger as occurred with the foreshore, that is they would see the Government has privatised them' - see Janika ter Ellen's Water claim could provoke anger - scholar. Willie Jackson highlights the formidable team leading the Maori Council, particularly ex-Maori Land Court and Waitangi Tribunal judge Eddie Durie in Don't underestimate role on Maori Council.

The Government hasn't ruled out buying back shares to settle claims but they are likely to be negotiated in secret with individual corporate iwi bodies on the condition that the sales are not impeded in any way. The Maori Council, in contrast, is openly challenging the unpopular sales because the public interest of all New Zealanders is being undermined. Although a deal with the Council is also possible, any legal delays could prove politically fatal to the sales, as it did to some in the 1980s. Anti-treaty sentiment may not be enough to overcome the many negatives the Government faces. Pete George (Extorting water rights rort wrong) and Martyn Bradbury (If you are a Pakeha who hates asset sales, you should rally around the Treaty argue the opposing views of the water claim.

There is another risk for the Government, especially as Key has been quick to say the Government will ignore any Waitangi Tribunal recommendation, irrespective of the outcome. The Maori Party has already paid a heavy price for it association with National. To have their coalition partner dismiss the Waitangi Tribunal so easily will put further strain on the relationship and open them to further attacks from the Opposition: 'I think now is the time for the Maori party to say "if you are not even bothering listening, we are out"' says Mana Party leader Hone Harawira' - see: Patrick Gower's Asset sales decision not binding - Key.


Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The Dominion Post editorial thinks Clayton Cosgrove has shown a lack of judgement - see: Political distance breeds suspicion.

* New housing is becoming the preserve of the wealthy in New Zealand says David Kennedy in his blog post Housing Crisis Demands Immediate Action!.

* The modern National party has lost the traditional balance that "natural social hierarchies" used to provide argues Chris Trotter in Barbarians, risen without trace.

* Debate on trade deals in New Zealand tends to focus on the advantages to our agricultural sector, but Audrey Young reports that Tech firms fear trade deal loss of freedom. Young also reports that at least US drug companies have given up trying to destroy New Zealand's public purchasing body - see: US companies accept Pharmac is here to stay, says head of lobby group.

* Is Auckland's casino more interested in using customer data to extract more profits from problem gamblers than stopping them? - see: SkyCity refuses to reveal gambler research. The Problem Gambling Foundation has long claimed that SkyCity's business model depends on problem gamblers as they provide 40% of pokie profits - see: SkyCity Host Responsibility Questioned. Meanwhile the distribtution of pokie funds is again in the spotlight as it's revealed that Auckland gets Waikato and BoP gambling proceeds.

* The relaxing of the Emission Trading Scheme deadlines risks our international credibility on climate change writes Colin James in On the bus. Or the truck. It's a gas.

* Finally a number of national sports bodies, who have long complained about Sky TV's charges for vital television coverage, look to break free of the pay TV operator - see: Sky TV could face competition with new free-to-air channel.