Iwi leaders' views differ on water rights

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2012
Mark Solomon
Fairfax NZ
WATCHING BRIEF: Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon.

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Iwi leaders are divided on how water rights should be solved and Prime Minister John Key has described the Maori Council's claim as "opportunistic".

Ngai Tahu boss and Iwi Leaders Group member Mark Solomon says his iwi is taking a "watching brief" on Waitangi Tribunal proceedings.

"Ngai Tahu do not see the sale of shares in these assets as an impediment to resolving the issues of iwi rights and interests in water," he said late last week.

The tribunal is holding an urgent hearing into Maori rights over water and will make an interim recommendation on whether National's partial sale of state-owned energy companies should be halted while the matter is clarified, but its findings are not binding on the Government.

Te Rarawa chairman and fellow iwi group member Haami Piripi said the privatisation of state-owned energy companies had changed everything.

The Land and Water Forum had ignored the issue of water ownership and expressly focused on management of the resource.

"It didn't become necessary until the Government decided to privatise it and quantify the potential commercial interest. The fact the Government is going to be drawing revenue from it put it into a new light."

The Iwi Leaders Group was supportive of the council's claim, he said.

Yesterday Mr Key called the Maori Council's tribunal claim opportunistic because it had not raised the issue when Contact Energy was sold more than 10 years ago. The issue of Maori water rights would probably end up in court, he said.

"We do not believe there's any link between the sale of shares in Mighty River Power and whatever rights or interests Maori might have in water."

Mr Key would not say whether the share float for Mighty River Power would be delayed.

"There's a chance a meteorite will hit the Earth this afternoon, but I don't think it's likely."

Last week he angered the Maori Party by suggesting the Government could ignore Waitangi Tribunal recommendations on water rights.

Party co-leader Tariana Turia demanded a meeting, which is due to take place in Mr Key's office this evening. Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said they would decide whether to walk away from the Government after that. Fairfax NZ

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