Water rights response next week, says Key

DANYA LEVY AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 16:28 27/08/2012
Pita Sharples
Fairfax NZ
PITA SHARPLES: "These are the things that Maori kids carry today, with or without Maori language, and they are not known, let alone acknowledged, in the classroom or in the community."
john key std3
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
TIMING UNCERTAIN: John Key hopes the partial sale of Mighty River Power will go ahead as planned this year.

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Maori Party talks down rift over water rights

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The Government will announce its response to the Waitangi Tribunal water rights decision early next week, Prime Minister John Key says.

Mr Key said the government would consider the report in good faith.

The Government is considering advice on "shares plus" which could see Maori getting a say over the running of water assets, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says.

Senior Government officials have met with the Maori Party after the Waitangi Tribunal on Friday said the Government would breach the Treaty of Waitangi if it went ahead with its asset sales programme before issues around water rights had been resolved.

The Tribunal said Maori had proprietary rights in water and the partial sale of state-owned energy companies Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy and Meridian Energy should be put on hold to protect their interests.

Sharples said National was still getting opinions from officials and lawyers.

The 'plus' referred to dealing with the Treaty breach, he said, following his meeting with Prime Minister John Key.

"That's the part that we're all going to have a look at and see what that actually means."

Claimants to the Waitangi Tribunal have said shares in state-owned energy companies were not enough to settle their water rights.

Sharples said he "didn't get any sense" about whether the sales would be delayed.

He had earlier said that resolving issues around water rights would take time, and he didn't know whether it would be possible to come to an agreement with Maori in time for the Government to sell shares in Might River Power this year.

The Maori Party would continue working with Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson on the issue.

Sharples and his colleagues would also meet with Maori to discuss the matter.

"It's not the delay or the hurry, it's about getting through the issue because this is a major issue for all of New Zealand and so we've got to resolve it."

Earlier, Sharples said issues around water rights was a really important issue that affected the whole country.

The party would listen to what the Government said on various points the Waitangi Tribunal report made and look for a way forward, he said.

BORROWING NEEDED IF SHARE SALE STOPPED

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Earlier, Key said he hoped shares in Might River Power would still go on sale this year as planned.

"The reason for that is when we release that capital from those assets, we can go on to buy other assets and we've got a $1 billion worth of schools and hospitals and other things we want to invest in," he told TVNZ's Breakfast programme.

Otherwise the Government could face having to borrow more money.

"We are a country that has a modest amount of government debt but we don't want to push that above our self-imposed ceiling of 30 per cent of the economy."

The Government believed Maori had rights and interests in water but didn't believe a change in ownership would alter its ability to recognise those rights.

"My responsibility, legally and morally now, is to get full legal and official advice on that report. I'm going to do that and as soon as I have that, which I expect to be early next week, will be in a position to say what we're doing," Key said.

There was a wide range of views on the issue within Maoridom, Key said. The iwi leadership group wanted to negotiate with Government but Maori Council want to continue through courts.

The Government would work through the Tribunal's findings with the Maori Party during its meeting today but it didn't expect to agree with the party on every issue, he said.

The Maori Party opposed the asset sales programme and wanted it delayed until National reaches a deal with Maori.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell yesterday said he hoped a compensation package could be agreed on by the end of the year.

- Stuff

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