Court reserves decision in water-rights case

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 10:01 02/02/2013

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A court bid to delay asset sales over unresolved water-right claims had identified nothing the Government was not already negotiating over with Maori, Crown lawyers have told the Supreme Court.

The Maori Council concluded its appeal yesterday to New Zealand's highest court, in which it claimed the mixed ownership model would impinge on the Crown's ability to settle the unresolved issue of water rights.

Last year, the Government, which is planning to sell up to 49 per cent of a series of state-owned enterprises, delayed the float of Mighty River Power by six months so the courts could hear the challenge.

But David Goddard, QC, appearing for the Crown, said all of the issues which the council had identified "are on the table" already and privatisations would not affect the separate processes.

Negotiations with the Iwi Leaders Group and the Fresh Start for Freshwater programme were covering decision-making roles, allocations and the ability to charge for water.

"All other aspects of rights and interests in water are being addressed through the Treaty settlement process.

"The appellants have not identified anything that falls outside those two streams of work," Mr Goddard said.

"When one asks what one means by ownership, there's nothing left."

On Thursday, Colin Carruthers, QC, for the Maori Council, told the court that while the Crown said it acknowledged Maori had some proprietary rights to water and geothermal resources, in reality the policy was to not recognise claims to water ownership on the basis of incompatibility with New Zealand law.

Speaking outside court, the Maori Council's solicitor, Donna Hall, said she was surprised by the Crown's statements. "We've never been aware that the resource rentals issue was going to be the answer to everything in the way that it was heard today," adding that the council was not privy to Crown discussions with the Iwi Leaders Group.

"I would hope that the offer stays open, if we were not successful."

In December, the High Court rejected a bid by the council and other Maori groups to halt the sales process.

The appeal then bypassed the Court of Appeal to fit with the Crown's proposed timetable, with plans to float Mighty River before the end of June.

Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias reserved the court's decision.

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- The Dominion Post

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