The Waitangi Tribunal is supporting controversial Maori water claims and seeking a delay to the sale of state-owned assets until the Government recognises Maori water rights.

The tribunal yesterday released a pre-publication version of its interim report on the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources claim brought by the NZ Maori Council.

The Crown asked for the early version of the report so government ministers can consider it before making decisions about the sale of 49 per cent of shares in Mighty River Power.

The tribunal found Maori claims to recognition of their proprietary rights in water bodies had been upheld as far back as 1929 when the Native Land Court granted ownership of Lake Omapere near Kaikohe to Ngapuhi.


The tribunal also found the Treaty of Waitangi gave Maori the exclusive right to control access to and use of the water in their rohe.

"Property rights and their protection go to the heart of a just legal system. This includes the right of all New Zealanders to use their proprietary rights and to profit from their use," the report says.

The tribunal says that, in practical terms, the Crown would not be able to provide a meaningful form of water rights recognition for Maori after it sells Mighty River Power shares to private investors.

"The sale should be delayed while an accommodation is reached with Maori," the report says.

The tribunal concluded it would be impossible to devise a comprehensive scheme for the recognition of Maori rights in all water bodies throughout New Zealand in the time available.