Key gives Maori Party assurance over water rights
Prime Minister John Key has given Maori an assurance the Government will not legislate away their rights and interests over water.
The commitment was made during an hour-and-a-half meeting in the Beehive last night, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said.
That had put to rest the Maori Party's greatest concern - that the Government would override any Maori proprietary interest over water with foreshore and seabed type legislation.
The Maori Party will view Mr Key's commitment as a significant win for Maori after a row over iwi claims to water and geothermal assets, sparked by the partial sale of state-owned power companies.
The claims had been painted as an opportunistic grab by Mr Key and Finance Minister Bill English.
There had also been anger within the Maori Party after Mr Key suggested the government might ignore any Waitangi Tribunal ruling in favour of Maori rights and interests over water - a statement Mrs Turia and co-leader Pita Sharples last week labelled "insulting".
Following that statement, Mrs Turia refused to give an assurance that the minor party would not walk away from its governing deal with National.
Heading into last night's meeting, Mr Key refused to backdown from his previous statements and said he would not be apologising to the Maori Party.
But after a lengthy meeting, Mrs Turia emerged to announce the Maori Party was pleased with the outcome and had won the assurances it was seeking.
"There are particular issues our people had written to us about in the last week, they wanted a resolution about and we think we've achieved that."
The main concern was that National would legislate away any Maori rights and interests over water - in the same way Labour did to Maori customary rights over the foreshore and seabed following an appeal court ruling in 2003.
Mrs Turia said Mr Key had given a firm commitment that National would not do that.
"That's what they have told us tonight. They say they have always believed Maori have rights and interests in water."
She said they had discussed Mr Key's apparent dismissal of the Waitangi Tribunal and he had explained that ''all he was doing was reiterating the law as it stood today".
"We have accepted his response to that ... he didn't need to apologise."
Sharples said this morning the Maori Party had got more than it hoped for out of the meeting.
''We talked tough because it looked like it was an insult and he was going to ignore the findings,'' he told Radio New Zealand.
''He has come around and said not only will he look at them in good faith, he will sit down with us and work our way through the findings. That is exactly what we wanted."
In a joint statement issued with Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples, Mr Key said both parties had agreed that when the Waitangi Tribunal report was issued they would jointly discuss their responses.
The statement stressed that the Maori Party did not consider the debate to be one about ownership - "it is about protecting the rights and interests of hapu and iwi with respect to water".
"The Maori Party and the Government continue to support a process of negotiation between hapu and iwi and the government on their rights and interests in water and the Government has undertaken not to legislate over those rights and interests."
The Dominion Post