The Maori Council - which is meeting today with key allies in its water rights fight to decide whether to go to court to block the sale of Mighty River Power - does not speak for Maori affected by the sale, Finance Minister Bill English says.
The council was meeting this morning in Wellington and was also to hold a teleconference this afternoon where it would consider a legal challenge to the Mighty River sale. The meetings come after the Government yesterday said it would next week to remove the company from the State Owned Enterprises Act, a move it expected would flush out any legal challenges to the plan.
The council, backed by more than 10 iwi and hapu claimant groups, has spearheaded Maori opposition to the partial sale of Mighty River and other power companies with a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal this year.
But after a recently completed round of consultation with iwi the Government deemed would be affected by the Mighty River sale, Mr English downplayed the council's significance.
"It became clear through the consultation that most of the iwi we talked to did not regard the Maori Council as speaking for them and made it clear to the Crown that the Crown should negotiated any rights and interests directly with iwi not through the Maori Council."
However, the council now has a significant ally in the Maori King Tuheitea - a powerful figure among Waikato tribes - who will make a final decision on whether a Maori Council-led legal challenge will proceed.
Mr English said the Government did not want to pick a fight with the movement.
"We're not looking for a stoush with anybody. It's up to Maori who have particular rights and interests in water to sort out who speaks for them.
"Some of them wanted the King to speak for them, that's one thing. The Crown, though, has to be pretty clear that as we go through the issue of dealing with water rights and interests that we're actually speaking with people who hold rights and interests and any arrangements we come to actually settle those rights and interests."
The Herald understands the council may indicate late this afternoon whether it will proceed with its court challenge.
Co-chairman of the Maori Council Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie yesterday said it appeared the matter "is destined for the courts, not because that outcome is desired by New Zealand Maori Council but because the Government is refusing to progress resolution of the central issue - residual Maori proprietary rights".
The council was also discussing the matter with two teams of lawyers, one led by Queen's Counsel Helen Cull and another by former deputy solicitor-general Matthew Palmer.
While the council received Legal Aid funding for its Waitangi Tribunal claim this year, Prime Minister John Key said it would not receive any taxpayer funding for a court challenge to the Mighty River sale.
It was the council's legal right to take the action, "but it's also their legal responsibility".
Maori Council solicitor Donna Hall said funding for any court action would be sought from various iwi.