Prime Minister John Key is standing firm over water rights and says the Government will not attend a national hui after rejecting calls for a pan-Maori settlement.
The hui has been convened by the Maori King, who marked his sixth anniversary recently with a speech calling for Maori to protect their rights over waterways.
King Tuheitia wants iwi leaders, the Maori Council, water claimants and politicians to thrash out a united view on how Maori rights and interests over water should be recognised.
The call follows intense jockeying sparked by a Waitangi Tribunal report which found Maori had a residual proprietary right in water and urged the Government to negotiate compensation with iwi affected by the sale of the state- owned power company, Mighty River Power.
Some iwi think it could have ramifications beyond the sale of Mighty River Power and affect aquifers, irrigation schemes and tradeable water rights.
The Government has been forced to delay the sale of shares in Mighty River Power until next year but has already rejected putting the tribunal's "shares plus" recommendation on the table - a deal that would see Maori water claimants get shares, board seats and a right of veto over management decisions.
The threat of legal action to stall the share float hangs over the Government if it fails to strike an alternative deal.
It also rejected the tribunal's call for a national hui, and Mr Key said yesterday that was why it was not interested in attending King Tuheitia's hui. He also ruled out any of National's Maori MPs attending.
"If you are an MP in the Government you represent the Crown and any representation by my MPs at such an event would be interpreted as representation by the Crown. And I've made that position absolutely crystal clear - I do not accept the view that there needs to be a national hui, because I do not accept there will be a national settlement, because I do not accept it's a national issue."
Past national settlements have included the Sealord deal, which effectively gave iwi 20 per cent of all fishing quota.
Labour, the Greens and Mana Party leader Hone Harawira have confirmed they will attend but UnitedFuture and ACT have ruled it out. NZ First is still deciding.
The Government is struggling to limit the debate around Maori water rights to the small number of iwi affected by the tribunal ruling - and its decision to negotiate with those iwi directly has sparked fears that other hapu and iwi, who also have valid water claims, will be disadvantaged.
There is far from universal accord within Maoridom, meanwhile, over what the king's hui might achieve.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi, a member of the powerful Iwi Leaders Group, said it may just duplicate work done by the Government and iwi chairs group.
But if the hui identified national issues of importance that would be useful.
Legal expert Matthew Palmer said there appeared to be momentum behind a national hui and for the Government not to turn up might "make it difficult for the Government later to say in court that it is fully engaged in terms of consultation".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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