About 700 of Maoridom's "A listers" as well and ordinary iwi members have gathered at Turangawaewae Marae on the banks of the Waikato River today for a national hui on water, hosted by King Tuheitia.

Hui organiser and Kingitanga spokesman Tukuroirangi Morgan said the turnout showed that "water unites us."

The hui would design a collaborative approach to protect Maori rights and interests over water, he said.

"That's what we're going to do today."


He said the Government would not be able to ignore what emerged from the hui.

As well as iwi leaders, corporations, the Maori Federation of Authorities, Kohanga Reo, the Maori Women's Welfare League and the urban Maori authorities are attending.

"You've got the A listers of Maoridom."

Sir Eddie Durie co-chairman of the Maori Council was always going to be one of the most anticipated speakers of the afternoon.

He slammed an approach which would see water claims settled at the same time as tribes sorted out their historical claims.

For Maori to go down that route was to short change themselves.But he also slammed an approach which would see water claims settled at the same time as historical claims.

"What they [the Government] give is nothing because a historic claim has a fixed quantum."

He also warned that to settle water issues after the government sold 49 per cent of Mighty River Power wasn't going to work either because Maori would have the added difficulty of investors who wouldn't want to sort the issue because of the impact on their share values.


"We must settle the nature of those rights first before we can contemplate a sale."

He didn't mince words about the council's unpopular position with the Government.They were "very friendly to the iwi leaders I suspect that's because they've got the foot in the door. We've got the door in our face."

He backed the hui's purpose for unity over water and hoped all Maori, inlcuding iwi leaders could stand together on the issue.

There was a rumble however, when he said: "And if we have to go to court to pay up together.

Mr Morgan said there was a big turnout because of a growing and mounting fear that the Crown was going "to subvert our rights and interests and minimise our rights and interests as they have done for a long, long time."

"There is a deep sense of urgency and a desire that we are going to talk and find a way forward collaboratively," he told the Herald before the formal part of the hui began.

"For far too long we've been working in silos - the Maori Council in their own corner, iwi leaders in their own corner. All the threads have got to come together. We have got to find a much more representative, collaborative model that pulls us together."

Several speakers including Maori Council co-chairman Sir Edward Taihukurei Durie and Tuwharetoa chief Sir Tumu te Heuehu will make short speeches, and organisers say the hui will then be turned over to the floor for two hours of debate.

Former Maori Party president Whatarangi Winiata will pull together recommendations from the hui, which will then be presented and debated at a hui tomorrow of the Iwi Chairs Forum at nearby Hopuhopu.

Te Arawa's Toby Curtis, one of five tribal heads on the powerful Iwi Leaders Group on Freshwater said he'd like a meeting with the Maori Council to sort out where there were commonalities.

Iwi leaders say a direct negotiation approach with the government is the best way forward.

Asked what he thought the Council's role should be he said: "It's like what it's done - it's to challenge the government ."

Sorting out water issues for Maori wouldn't work if either body thought they could lead the issue alone, he said.

The hui has been called in the wake of a report by the Waitangi Tribunal saying the Government would be breaching the Treaty of Waitangi if it went ahead with its partial asset sales programme.

The tribunal recommended that the Government convene a national hui to discuss how it could recognise Maori proprietary interest in water and advanced a concept called "shares plus" - shares in the SOEs being partially floated and some form of control by iwi.

The Government has delayed the first float, of Mighty River Power, until next March or April. It will consult iwi associated with waterways used by Mighty River Power on the ''shares plus" concept but has rejected it as unworkable and has rejected any pan-Maori approach to settle water claims.

Mana leader Hone Harawira is one of a handful of politicians and former politicians at today's hui. His supporters distributed a pamphlet setting out an ''Dear John..." open letter to Prime Minister John Key - run in the opinion pages of today's New Zealand Herald.

It calls on him to set aside the asset sales, give the Waitangi Tribunal time to conduct a further hearing "and then I'd call everyone back to the table in 12 months and see if we could come up with a solution that works for all.