One of the country's biggest iwi is set to raise the stakes in the water dispute after confirming its intention to lodge a Waitangi Tribunal claim over New Zealand's second-largest aquifer.
Ngati Kahungunu iwi chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana said there was unanimous support for the claim at a gathering of the tribe's iwi, hapu and whanau during the weekend.
The Hawke's Bay tribe has had a claim to fresh waterways before the Waitangi Tribunal since 1996. It asserts that the rights of hapu to use, protect and develop the aquifer should be recognised and upheld.
But Mr Tomoana said the Government's proposal to sell shares in the state-owned power companies, coupled with a Waitangi Tribunal finding that Maori have a proprietary interest over water, created fresh urgency.
The tribe maintains that Ngati Kahungunu's rights and interests in the waters of their aquifer had never been lawfully extinguished. But Mr Tomoana said there were growing fears that the scramble to sell SOE shares would sideline those rights and interests, including development rights.
“Because of the Government's decision to sell those shares we've had to accelerate our response.”
The iwi announced its intention to lodge the claim last week but the significance of the hui this weekend was the backing of smaller hapu and iwi.
Mr Tomoana said it was a concern for all iwi, not just Ngati Kahungunu.
He would be calling for a unified approach at a gathering of iwi leaders at Ngaruawahia's historic Turangawaewae Marae on Thursday.
The hui has been called to explore the Maori response to the Waitangi Tribunal finding.
Speaking on TVNZ's Q + A yesterday, Finance Minister Bill English acknowledged the Government's original target of a $5 billion to $7 billion return from those assets may be under threat.
But that did not change the Government's determination to press ahead with the first share float next year and National had a mandate to proceed from winning the last election after campaigning on the issue, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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