By Andrew Laxon and Keith Perry
The Government is expected to throw out a Waitangi Tribunal finding that Maori have ownership rights over radio frequencies.
But Maori leaders say dismissing the judgment would be seen by the rest of the world as denying a partnership with Maori people.
The Minister for Treaty Negotiations, Sir Douglas Graham, strongly hinted yesterday that the Government would not accept the tribunal's decision that the country's airwaves were covered by the Treaty of Waitangi.
The tribunal has defended its majority finding - which has held up the sale of mobile communications radio frequencies - as necessary to protect the Maori language.
However, it is understood the Government believes the decision must be blocked, as it could open up the way for claims on everything from genetic engineering discoveries to oil and gas reserves.
Sir Douglas said the Government would consider the matter carefully and hoped to reach a decision within two or three months.
However, he told Parliament that "the issue is really whether the electro-magnetic spectrum was a valid taonga in 1840."
The Government is expected to rely heavily on the minority judgment of Judge Savage who finds the treaty is "a partnership, not a marriage."
Therefore, he declares, the Crown does not have to share every natural or manmade asset, regardless of whether it is specifically listed in the treaty or not.
Judge Savage says if Maori claims to radio airwaves are accepted, the same logic could be applied to oil and gas reserves, passenger transport services, solar electricity generation, genetic engineering and the licensing of air space.
"There is an absurdity inherent in this claim when seen in that general context," he said.
Professor Whatarangi Winiata said the Whanganui River case had already sent a clear message to the Crown to look differently at resources such as oil and minerals.
"Privatisation of the country's resources without recognising the Maori right to rangatiratanga is not acceptable," he said.
"The radio spectrum was a resource that existed before 1840 and still exists.
The difference is we have found the technology to use that resource in a certain way. It was part of the reality which is subject to a treaty.
Maori would probably want to have management of parts of the radio spectrum for themselves or in joint ventures with the Crown.
Dr Howard Frederick, of Victoria University, who also gave evidence at the tribunal, said the radio spectrum decision meant Maori could share in the country's "knowledge economy."
"The radio spectrum, which ranges from 9khZ to 3000GHz, is the backbone of the country's radio communications system and an extremely valuable resource."
Wellington lawyer Joe Williams said the tribunal sent out a clear message that the Crown lacked any basic Maori language policy regarding the airwaves. Control of the airwaves was crucial to the maintenance of Maori language communications systems.
"The Crown has an obligation for that reason alone to deliver frequencies to Maori that would assist them in the protection and nurturing of their language and culture," said Mr Williams.
The big question now was whether the Crown would heed the tribunal's warning to put future airwaves auctions on ice until the Maori interests were taken into consideration or "steamroller ahead and wait for the Maori to sue them."
Leo Watson, counsel for the claimants at the Waitangi tribunal, said he anticupated a whole raft of new Maori claims in the light of Wednesday's ruling.
By Andrew Laxon and Keith Perry