Maori Party stay in Govt over water rights issue

DANYA LEVY
Last updated 15:50 03/09/2012

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The Maori Party is vowing not to walk away from its support arrangement with the Government over the water rights issue.

Prime Minister John Key will shortly announce Cabinet's response to an urgent Waitangi Tribunal report calling for the Government to hold off on its asset sales programme until the Tribunal can work out a mechanism for recognising Maori propriety rights and interests on waterways within the catchments in four state-owned energy companies the Government plans to sell up to 49 per cent of.

In a statement indicating the Maori Party has been told the Government plans to forge ahead with the first asset sale for Might River Power, co-leader Pita Sharples says the party was "here for the long haul" to progress and advocate water rights for Maori.

"The huge majority of Maori leaders insist that we must stay in Government to see these vital issues through. Recognition and protection of the customary and proprietary rights of Maori are vital to the survival of Maori as a distinct culture and identity. They are matters of constitutional significance, and we are not going to play political games over the future of our people and our nation."

Water rights was a complicated issue and a long process of negotiation had only just begun, he said.

"We have a lot of work to do in order to ensure that all tangata whenua, iwi and hapu have their rights in water settled and addressed in an appropriate way."

The Maori Party opposes the government's programme and the Government promised to consult the party after the Maori Council took a claim to the Tribunal that the sales would jeopardise Maori rights.

Senior Government ministers met with the Maori Party last Monday, just days after the Tribunal released its findings early at the request of the Beehive.

Sharples said the party had worked hard over the past week to bring the various parties together and find a pathway forward.

"It has not been easy, but we have been making daily progress in our discussions."

The Maori Party had sought specific commitments from the Government on ways to find a solution, he said. That included encouraging negotiations with smaller iwi over their ancestral water bodies, engaging iwi who had interests in natural resources used by Mighty River Power, encouraging the Government to publicly acknowledge the importance of Maori rights in natural water and geothermal resources and giving serious consideration to the Tribunal's report.

The Maori Party had also asked the Government to commit to developing a national policy framework for negotiations with Maori over natural resources, convene a hui for iwi leaders and the Maori Council, agree on a timetable for ongoing negotiations and support the Land and Water Forum's recommendation to establish a national Land and Water Commission.

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Sharples said the Māori Party was pleased with the support it had from the Maori Council and many iwi leaders for its approach to issue.

- Stuff

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