Labour Party leader Andrew Little says the Maori economy has enjoyed growth but now is the time to make the right decisions about a sustainable future.

Mr Little gave a speech at the first day of the Climate Change 2016: Sustainable Economic Growth That Does Not Cost the Earth conference in Rotorua yesterday.

Mr Little said the question of how to sustain growth was especially important for the Maori economy, which was currently enjoying faster rates of growth than the general economy.

"So the question before us is how to make sure that is sustainable. How best to use the transition to a low carbon economy to also help us transition to a higher value, higher wage economy."


He said too often our natural resources were being harvested and then shipped offshore for someone to process and add value to, meaning other countries were reaping much of the economic benefit.

"Labour wants to see more of that value captured here at home.

"There are huge opportunities for the Maori economy in making this transition up the value chain.

Mr Little said in our response to climate change jobs are both at stake and on offer.

"Already we are seeing jobs put at risk as the climate changes."

He said that New Zealand currently spent less than half of what leading Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries spent on innovation, which was not good enough to tackle climate change.

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"Done right, our response to climate change can drive more innovation and more opportunities to commercialise green technology. If we get this right, we can support our people, protect our environment, boost our businesses and make our economy stronger for years to come."

He also touched the two other issues of the Te Ture Whenua Bill, which is being proposed by the government, and on water rights.

Labour did not want to see a bill that would undermine the rights of Maori land owners and give more power to the Crown, or that breaches fundamental elements of tikanga Maori, he said. "We support Maori land owners to realise the full potential of their assets."

He said the party would be looking at amendments, rather than a full rewrite of the law.

Mr Little said the Labour Party acknowledged hapu and iwi interests in water, and that there must be a balance between economic and environmental which also recognised the special relationship Maori have with water.

Water is being mismanaged and not shared fairly, causing widespread pollution and environmental damage, he said.

Other speakers yesterday included Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, Waiariki MP and Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell, co-leader of the New Zealand Green Party James Shaw and Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder. The conference continues today with speakers including scientists from NIWA, chief executive officer of Scion Dr Warren Parker and Minister of Climate Change Issues Paula Bennett.