Nobody owns water and that is not up for negotiation - Prime Minister John Key and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English made their position clear yesterday as they battled more potential strife on the proposed part-sale of state-owned energy companies.
A claim was lodged in the Waitangi Tribunal yesterday to stop the part-sale of state-owned enterprises until the water and geothermal ownership is resolved.
It was lodged by Wellington lawyer Donna Hall on behalf of the New Zealand Maori Council.
It seeks an urgent hearing on the sale of power-generating state-owned enterprises - Mighty River Power, Meridian, and Genesis - and the return to Maori of all land or interests used by the companies for hydro or geothermal electricity. It also wants compensation for past use of freshwater and geothermal resources.
More strife is expected today in Rotorua as the Government holds its first consultation hui on what sort of Treaty of Waitangi clause should be in the legislation allowing for the new private and public ownership of the SOEs. Mr Key yesterday agreed that simply moving the Section 9 Treaty clause in the State-owned Enterprises Act 1986 to the new law was a distinct possibility, and making it clear that Treaty obligations lay with the Crown.
But Mr Key said, that in his view, "no one owns water".
"It's like air. No one owns air."
He was confident the Maori Party would remain a support partner for National for the next three years.
Mr English said through both the Iwi Leaders Group and the Land and Water Forum there had been a lot of discussion with Maori in the past few years on water.
"There has been a general agreement that there is no mechanism to determine the ownership of water. It's a public good, like the air.
What matters is how it is used and the rules that apply to that use."
Sir Tumu te Heuheu is leading a national hui on freshwater at Hopuhopu on February 23 and 24.
Mr English said that while there had been settlements with iwi on co-management of lakes and rivers, no settlement had ever provided for the ownership of water - and it would not in the future.
"It is not up for negotiation."
Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell has encouraged iwi to take High Court action in a bid to stop the sales.
Nick Davidson, a retired lawyer and Treaty settlements expert, said he did not believe court action or tribunal action would succeed. He believed it was a power-play to get preferential ownership shares of the SOEs.