Harawira criticises Key over Maori water claim
DANYA LEVY AND KATE CHAPMAN
Veteran activist Titewhai Harawira says John Key is interfering with the justice system by saying Maori water ownership claims are just about money.
An urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing is underway after the Maori Council lodged a claim testing the rights of Maori over water.
The hearing is being fast-tracked because of the National-led Government's programme to partially sell four state-owned energy companies.
Key earlier said the Maori Council wanted to make money out of the water used by power companies by claiming Maori owned water.
Harawira, who was at the tribunal's hearing in Lower Hutt, disputed that. It was a legal process recognised by the Government, she said.
"This is about the mana of our people and for him to dismiss the Tribunal and its potential outcomes is a blatant interference with justice," she said.
The Council would take the matter to the High Court if needs be and Key was trying to influence the outcome.
"Why does he think he has a right to do this to Maori and dismiss Maori?"
Maori had already argued their rights for fisheries, language, and the airwaves.
"You hear our people yet again talking about the reasons why they have a Treaty right to make the claims for these issues."
It was sad that they were being dismissed, she said.
Sir Graham Latimer, who was also present at the hearing, said the Council was there to argue for Maori rights.
"The Prime Minister or whoever it may be will dance to the tune... when that time comes."
Maori should not worry about what was going on but just "get on with the job".
Sir Graham said he wanted unity between the Crown and Maori - there was no use talking to anyone else.
"We've got to go ahead, whatever the Prime Minister or anybody else says... if they want to jump up and down, perform on the side, well go ahead and do it."
The hearing continued this morning with submissions from Ngati Te Ata and historian David Alexander.
Earlier Roimata Minhinnick, of Ngati Te Ata, said Key only cared about one side of the negotiations.
"He wishes to see people get angry with these claims, that's political statements."
The Maori Council and iwi appearing at the hearing were offering the Crown a solution, he said.
"We are indicating that we don't agree with their proposals. The treasure must be returned."
There were overlapping iwi interests on certain bodies of water and they could be negotiated later, he said
'NO WATER OWNERSHIP CHANGE'
Key today argued selling up to 49 per cent of Might River Power would not change the ownership of the water it relied on to generate electricity.
Key this morning reiterated the Government's view that no one owned water.
"In the same way we don't think anyone owns the sea and we don't think anyone owns air," he told TV3's Firstline programme.
"And that has been a long-standing position of successive New Zealand governments."
The Maori Council was entitled to believe Maori own water, Key said.
"As (chairman) Maanu Paul said last night, the reason is they want you all to pay for that. He said you need to pay for their water."
The change of ownership from the Government owning 100 per cent to owning 51 per cent of Might River Power didn't change the ownership of water, he said.
"It just says Mighty River Power would have to pay someone else for that water right that they are currently not paying for. I don't agree with that."
The Maori Council didn't represent all Maori, he said.
The next course of action it was "likely" to take would be in the High Court. "They may well try to injunct the Government to halt the (sales)."
Labour's state-owned enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said Key was trying to 'muddy the waters" over water rights.
"This is silliness to cover a totally botched process."
There was no difference between owning water or water rights, he said.
"Ownership is the key. These assets own and control water rights."
Central North Island iwi Ngati Tuwharetoa told Parliament it had gifted back water assets to the Crown during its settlement process because profits generated from those assets would go towards the public good, Cosgrove said.
"If you flog off part of those assets the private sector then gains a percentage of the profits of those assets, that wasn't the deal."
Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the Maori Council had gone to the Tribunal to establish the nature of those rights.
"Key has come out and said basically he won't take any notice of what they say which is actually a real affront. It's a long time since we've had a prime minister who says 'I don't care what the Waitangi Tribunal says'."
The Government was in for a long court battle because the Maori Council had a strong case, he said.
The Tribunal will consider whether Treaty claimants are being denied a future stake in the state-owned power companies and the broader questions of Maori water and geothermal rights.
The Government could buy back shares at market rates to settle Treaty claims.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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