Audrey Young

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

Turia won't confirm govt support

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia is refusing to confirm that the support arrangement with the minority National government is safe.

She said the issue of the Maori Party's future support for the minority National government was up to her party's membership.

"That will be a decision made by our people.''

Asked specifically if the party membership would be reconsidering the support agreement she said "that's for them to decide really.''

"We are always really clear that we are led by others - we're not there to lead people down a pathway of what we think is the right thing to do.''

But she scoffed at Labour's calls for the Maori Party to walk away from the support arrangement given its record in preventing Maori from going to court on the foreshore and seabed.

"Who cares what they say and what they think actually?''

Her comments were made outside the Waitangi Tribunal hearings on water at the Waiwhetu marae in Lower Hutt.

Mr Key said on Monday that the Government could ignore the tribunal's findings.

She said she did not believe he had made his comments about the Waitangi Tribunal to deliberately incite a racial backlash.

But it had been inflammatory if you listened to radio talkback.

His comments had ''given permission'' to people to say the most damaging comments about tangata whenua.

"We have had a really respectful relationship all the way through and I imagine that he will understand the reasons we are feeling the way that we are.''

She said Mr Key' comments were pre-empting the process.

"This tribunal is a very important part of our relationship with the Crown.

"If we are going to start saying it is of no consequence, we don't have to listen to it, then I think that is undermining what the tribunal is all about.

"The tribunal is about hope. It's about belief that things can change, that things can be done to address the significant issues people face.

"In the year 2012 we continue to believe that and if you have someone stepping out when the process is just beginning, basically dissing the process, people do tend to lose hope.''

She and Dr Sharples have been trying to arrange a meeting with Mr Key but he said a short time ago in Christchurch that that would not be possible this week.

Mrs Turia said their first meeting to discuss the issue would probably be by telephone.

Mrs Turia acknowledged that Mr Key articulated the legal situation. She added that there would not be a person in New Zealand who didn't know that already.

She and co-leader Pita Sharples issued a statement yesterday highly critical of Mr Key's comments.

"There was no need for it. We all know that so why bother?''

Prime Minister's reaction

Speaking in Christchurch today, Prime Minister John Key said he was happy to talk to the Maori Party about their concerns, but reiterated his position that the Government might not listen to any recommendation of the Waitangi Tribunal.

He said his view that no one group owned water was "rock solid and it's not about to change".

"I'm more than happy to have a meeting with (Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia). It's not possible this week, I'm travelling. But we meet on a very regular basis. She's more than welcome to ring me. My phone's always on," Mr Key said.

"I have absolutely no doubt there will be discussions over the next few weeks."

"But there is nothing new in my statements. Some time ago I made exactly the same statements about my view of the ownership of water and that is that water is owned by all New Zealanders. It's not owned by one particular group."

He rejected claims his position was a "sop to New Zealanders" against Maori claims, or could lead to a race riot.

"Maori have an interest and a relationship with water, but the Government's view is they don't own water....nor do we believe anyone owns the air or the sea. In fact the position of no-one owning water has been established in common law quite some time ago, so it's not a new position for either the New Zealand government or this government."

Mr Key said the Government "eagerly await" the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal.

"And we are going into the process in good faith. But it's just a statement of fact that the Waitangi Tribunal is not binding on this government in the way it wasn't binding on other governments."

"It doesn't mean we won't listen to them. We might or we might not."

Asked if the dispute might affect his Government's relationship with the Maori Party, Mr Key said:

"No. It's an ongoing healthy relationship. We have good debates. There are many areas where we don't agree. We don't agree clearly where it comes to the issues of ownership of water."

"There are water rights and there are interests, and we work with Maori in a lot of different areas in relation to water and that's through the treaty settlement process. We have got issues like the co-management of the Waikato River and the likes, but there's a big difference between that and the ownership of water."

He hoped the dispute would not hold up the Government's programme of asset sales.

"I can't for the life of me see why the sale of shares in Mighty River Power would have any impact on the issue of water when Mighty River Power have their own water rights.

"But it's irrelevant what the ownership make-up of that company is in relation to the arguably disputed issue of water ownership. In the Government's view it's a clear position, but there is always others that assert a different view."

- NZ Herald

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