OPINION: Regrettable, the Maori water rights claim is now headed for the only place where it can be resolved - the courts.
Negotiation has failed. Whether the five weeks the Government set aside for talks with affected iwi constitutes genuine negotiation is another matter that is likely to be resolved by the courts. But Maori cannot escape a measure of responsibility for the failure of the consultation process. Negotiation is a two-way street.
If Prime Minister John Key overplayed his hand by assuming the country's inland waters were the Government's to do with what it wished, elements of Maoridom, in particular Tainui and the Maori King, have also overplayed their hands - Tainui by urging iwi to boycott the consultation hui organised by the Government and King Tuheitia by ill-advisedly claiming that Maori have "always owned the water". That is demonstrably not the case and the claim that it is has made it only harder, politically, for the Government to give ground.
The truth lies somewhere in between. No one owns the water, but Maori have legal rights arising from the Treaty of Waitangi that cannot be dismissed or ignored.
It would have been better had Mr Key's Government not embarked on its state-asset selldown until it had quantified those rights and reached agreement with Maori about how they would be recognised. Its failure to do so has already delayed the sales process by at least six months and could do so for much longer if the High Court grants an injunction blocking the sale until the extent of Maori rights has been determined. Even if the court does not block the selldown, the uncertainty created by Maori claims is likely to diminish the return on assets built up by generations of New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha. The value of an unencumbered asset is far greater than that of an asset the ownership of which is in question.
It would also have been better if Maori had accepted the Government's offer of negotiation in good faith and used it as an opportunity to try to change ministers' minds. Legal action always remained an option if progress could not be made.
The intemperate language employed by King Tuheitia and others has only persuaded many non-Maori that the country is being held to ransom by a subsection of the population seeking to take financial advantage of a historic document drafted long before anyone thought of damming the nation's rivers to generate electricity.
That is unfortunate. The things that divide Maori and Pakeha are infinitesimal when compared to the things that unite us.
We share a common land and common interests. We take pride in the performance of the same sportspeople, musicians, adventurers and artists. Increasingly we share grandchildren and, together, we are evolving a unique identity that draws on the cultures and heritages of all those who have found their way to these shores in the past 800 or so years.
Sadly, it is the things that divide us that get the attention.
- The Dominion Post