Prime Minister John Key has dismissed claims he and his Government are acting in bad faith toward Maori who have gone to the Waitangi Tribunal in a bid to stall the partial sale of Mighty River Power until their water claims are heard.
The tribunal is currently holding urgent hearings to assess claims by the New Zealand Maori Council, iwi and hapu who say the sale of the power company would affect the ability of the Crown to make adequate redress for their claims.
Mr Key has said his Government doesn't believe there is merit to any litigation over the water issue, and that the Government may simply set aside any recommendation in support of the claims the tribunal is hearing and continue with the sale of the power company.
Those comments inflamed lawyers representing iwi and the Maori Council at the hearing this afternoon, prompting tribunal chair Wilson Isaac to call an early tea break to allow the situation to cool off.
But speaking to reporters in Hamilton this afternoon, Mr Key said he had never suggested he wouldn't listen to the Tribunal's findings.
Those that said he wouldn't, including the Opposition, were jumping to conclusions.
"I've said we'll take on board what they're saying but the Government's not bound the Waitangi Tribunal findings, and neither have any successive Governments been bound by their findings, nor are we bound to give a response.
"We're going through a process, we'll be interested to see what the Waitangi Tribunal says, we're acting in good faith. We take the tribunal very seriously but that doesn't mean we're bound it, and that's the law in New Zealand."
Earlier at the tribunal's hearing at Waiwhetu Marae, Lower Hutt, lawyer Kathy Ertel accused Mr Key of not only breaching good faith under the treaty process but also contravening the Securities Act which deals with share sales with his comments.
Ms Ertel, who is representing Ngati Ruapani rather than the Maori Council, told the tribunal her clients were "anxious to ensure the public are not dragged into a race riot and that's what this is leading up to".
She later told reporters she and her clients were concerned to avoid the public seeing that "Maori are trying to stop New Zealand from paying down its debt by seeking to have their rights recognised, because that's not the case".
"What they want is for their rights to be recognised and for the Government to undertake whatever policy it wants, but in a proper framework."
She earlier told the tribunal Mr Key's comments underplaying the potential impact of iwi and hapu claims could have on the value of Mighty River shares when they are sold constituted a potential breach of the Securities Act.
Crown lawyer Paul Radich disputed her analysis and said the matter would be addressed in the Crown's presentations later in the hearings.
Mr Radich suggested Mr Key's comments had either been misrepresented or not reported in full.
Tribunal member Tim Castle asked the Crown for Mr Key's comments to be clarified and for the issue of whether they were appropriate to be examined.
Financial markets expert Phillip Galloway was preparing to give his submission when Ms Ertel made her comments, but tribunal chair Wilson Isaac instead called an early 20-minute tea break.By Adam Bennett Email Adam