Prime Minister John Key spoke on Te Tii Marae and again urged Ngapuhi to resolve their differences and push along their settlement, as well as opening the door for Ngapuhi to run social housing programmes.

Mr Key's welcome onto Te Tii Marae went peacefully with only a few protestors shouting as he moved on to the marae. He used his speech to again encourage Ngapuhi to try to resolve their difference and settle, pointing to the regions' high unemployment and issues such as bad housing. "If you want to fix those problems you have to have solutions. You have a large settlement and it has a capacity to make a huge difference to the people of the North."

The iwi is split with some hapu rejecting the mandate given to Tuhoronuku and the terms of the settlement. Mr Key said his hands were tied in trying to resolve that.

"I can't make different people see eye to eye. All I can say is the Government is a willing partner, ready to engage and settle. The people of the Ngapuhi need help, but we can't do that talking to ourselves. We can't force people to settle and we won't."

Advertisement

He also made his pitch for selling state houses and developing social housing saying Ngapuhi could be a social housing provider. "We want to have conversation with local iwi if they are interested in being a local housing provider. We do think they'd do a better job than us of running them."

Iwi rights to buy state houses and run housing programmes themselves are expected to be raised at Mr Key's meeting with Iwi Chairs in Kerikeri this afternoon.

The other big topic is expected to be talks over water rights. Iwi Chair Forum spokesman Mark Solomon announced this morning that the forum and Government had agreed on a working plan to determine fresh water rights and allocations for iwi. He said it was hoped that would be resolved by next Waitangi Day. He said the iwi chairs believed iwi held economic development rights as well as cultural and environmental rights.

However, Mr Key said Cabinet had so far only agreed to work on a consultation document - and even that was likely to take at least two years. His stance on economic rights also appeared to differ from Mr Solomon's - he denied iwi would be able to charge for water but said that in areas where Maori land was alongside a waterway they could be able to use it for economic development. However, he said iwi would have no greater rights than any other landowner or water user. The Government was in similar talks with other parties who had interests, such as Federated Farmers.

Mr Key said the Government would not budge on its stance that nobody owned the water. The talks follow a Supreme Court ruling last year that Maori did retain some rights to water.