Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Maori split on action over water rights

Te Ariki, Sir Tumu Te Heuheu. Photo / NZPA
Te Ariki, Sir Tumu Te Heuheu. Photo / NZPA

The head of the freshwater iwi leaders' group, Tuwharetoa paramount chief Sir Tumu te Heuheu, said the group would like to advance iwi rights in freshwater through continued discussion with the Government, not through the courts.

But the Maori Council, a statutory body which took a case to the Waitangi Tribunal, continued to take a harder line, promising legal action if the Government did not agree to hold discussions.

The Maori Party, which is seeking to bring together the iwi leaders' group and the council, was planning to meet Prime Minister John Key, as previously agreed.

But Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia was unwell over the weekend so the meeting will depend on her recovery.

The freshwater iwi leaders' group was formed in 2007 and has been a key component of the Land and Water Forum to advance new thinking around freshwater management.

Sir Tumu said the Waitangi Tribunal finding on Friday - that Maori have residual proprietary rights in particular bodies of water - came as no surprise and were consistent with its own actions.

"The tribunal's findings build on a number of earlier tribunal reports on such matters and are entirely consistent with the basis on which the iwi leaders' group has been advancing these issues with the Crown."

He said the iwi leaders' group was committed to progressing its existing discussions with the Crown.

Those discussions were focused on the "appropriate recognition of iwi rights and interests in the context of the development of a new freshwater management framework in New Zealand".

"The preference of the iwi leaders' group has always been to advance these issues in direct discussions at a leadership level with the Crown, not through litigation.

"The tribunal's report does alter that focus or commitment," Sir Tumu said.

Fundamental to any enduring freshwater framework was the resolution of rights and interests of iwi in respect of freshwater.

"That resolution is not about ownership of water in any absolute sense nor exclusivity as is often misunderstood," he said.

"Rather we are looking to fair and meaningful provision for the cultural and economic interests of Maori, alongside existing stakeholders and the public, as part of a new management framework."

The Waitangi Tribunal recommended the Government delay the share float of up to 49 per cent of Mighty River Power and other state-owned power companies until it came up with a mechanism to recognise Maori rights and a way to compensate the breach of them.

Despite accepting the Crown's assurances that nothing arising from the sale of the shares would prevent it from providing rights recognition after the sale, the tribunal said it would be a breach of the treaty unless the sale was delayed.

Maori Council deputy chairwoman and former Maori Party MP Rahui Katene yesterday called on the Government to agree to the hui recommended by the tribunal.

Talking would be a sign of good faith, she said.

"That's all we want at this stage," she told TVNZ's Marae Investigates.

"Of course, we always have the option of going to court, and with the tribunal report in our back pocket, that's going to be so much stronger."

She rejected the suggestion the claim could be seen as holding the country to ransom.

"We believe these are property rights and as property rights they should be protected as much as anyone else's are.

"You as a householder know what your property rights are ... you can sell, you can rent, you can do anything you want within your home.

"We want to have the same right over our property."

- NZ Herald

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