Maori debate water rights before Key talks

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 15:46 06/08/2012

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Maori Party co-leader Peter Sharples says a hui on water rights is going well and the mood was forward-looking.

The hui was called after the Government asked the Waitangi Tribunal to report back early on the issue of Maori water ownership.

The first of the Government's controversial partial asset sales, Mighty River Power, is due to go ahead in the last quarter of this year, but the Maori Council lodged a claim with the tribunal, saying Maori had rights over freshwater and the sales would hamper their ability for redress.

Key is due to meet the Maori Party this evening to discuss the Government's response to the tribunal's interim decision recommending that asset sales be delayed until its full report is released.

The tribunal's full report is not due until September, but ministers have written to the tribunal asking it to report back by August 24, so they can make a decision on the share float by the first week of September.

This afternoon the Waitangi Tribunal released a statement saying it was "unusual and inappropriate" for the Government to interfere.

"We also record the need to retain judicial independence and to maintain the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive."

Crown lawyers were aware of correct procedures and should follow them, it said.

However, the tribunal said it would attempt to provide an interim truncated report by August 24.

"This report will set out our findings and recommendations with reasons in respect to all stage one issues."

At a break in the meeting Sharples said those present had agreed that there could be a national approach to the issue of Maori water rights.

Everyone agreed it was an important issue but there was concern, more than anger in the room, he said.

"I think there is a real chance of having a co-ordinated approach."

The meeting had not looked specifically at the issue of asset sales, he said.

"This is probably more significant than we realise in terms of - once Maori are of one mind - goodness.

"The rare occasion," he joked.

Dr Sharples said his meeting with Key tonight was about restoring mana to the Waitangi Tribunal after Key's derogatory comments.

Iwi leader Haami Piripi said the land and water forum had largely dealt with management of water and there was still a role for deciding on ownership.

There are a bundle or rights and interests that are akin to ownership and that is what Maori are interested in, he said.

"I guess that sets the template for resolution."

Putting aside shares in the state owned energy companies could also help but it was hard to know how much might be needed.

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"If the Government were proactive, and brave, and had some balls it could do a thing like that."
Piripi also believed iwi who had already settled their claims would be able to reopen them over water rights.

"It's a new issue and in some ways it's a fresh injustice."

- The Dominion Post

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