Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says he expects the Maori water rights wrangle to end up in the courts after his party failed to secure an assurance from the Government last night that it would pay heed to any Waitangi Tribunal findings.

Dr Sharples and co-leader Tariana Turia had a two-hour meeting with Prime Minister John Key, Finance Minister Bill English and Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson.

Afterwards, Dr Sharples said the only assurance given was that the Government would wait for an interim report from the Waitangi Tribunal on August 24 before proceeding with the sale of Mighty River Power. He believed it was likely the issue would end up in the courts.

Dr Sharples said Mr Key had also emphasised that he believed it should be dealt with iwi by iwi, despite the decision at a hui yesterday to set up a pan-Maori group including iwi leaders, the Maori Council and other groups.


"But Maori believe there are national principles that apply across the board, so I guess that has to be worked through."

He said the Maori Party often disagreed with National but did not believe walking away would benefit Maori.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Key rejected suggestions that water rights could be resolved on a pan-Maori basis, saying such rights were best sorted out "river by river, iwi by iwi".

He said many iwi agreed with his view - that it was a matter for negotiation by individual iwi.

"There are quite a lot of iwi that would say they have no particular interest in the pan-iwi solution. Their interest is about their particular river, and their particular rights and interests as they see it in relation to that river. And there's quite a wide range of views about what those rights look like."

His comments came after the hui of about 130 Maori hosted by Dr Sharples agreed to take a "national stand" on water rights.

The hui was to gauge views before last night's meeting.

Maori Council lawyer Felix Geiringer said the Government had wrongly been trying to play up splits of opinion between iwi leaders and the Maori Council. "But we've seen today there is no conflict; the two are working on the same issue but perhaps from different angles."

Labour MP Shane Jones said the Maori Party hui was like "Tonto being sent out to deal with the tribes".

He said the only leverage any Maori group had over the Crown was judicial leverage "and the only entity that's showing any steel to effect a judicial outcome is the Maori Council".

The Waitangi Tribunal chairman, Chief Judge Wilson Isaac, criticised the Government for questioning the tribunal's decisions - something he described as "most unusual and inappropriate" given the need to maintain the separation of powers between the judiciary and the Executive.

Mr Key denied trying to pressure the tribunal, saying the Government had simply clarified that it could not afford to wait until next month before deciding on Mighty River Power.