Water hui boycott 'strengthens Government's position' - Key

DANYA LEVY AND TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 11:17 18/09/2012
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King Tuheitia
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Prime Minister John Key says a decision by some Tainui iwi to boycott the Government's water consultation hui strengthens the Government's legal position should the matter end up in court.

Some sub-tribes of  Tainui, one of the country's biggest iwi, will boycott today's hui, which is the first of a number planned by the Government in the wake of a Waitangi Tribunal report warning the Government would be in breach of the Treaty if it proceeded with the sale of shares in State-owned Mighty River Power.

The hui have been called to consult over a key recommendation of the tribunal, that Maori be given shares, board positions and other rights over other shareholders in an arrangement it called ‘‘shares plus’’.

The Government has rejected the shares plus proposal as unacceptable but is consulting iwi over it to satisfy its good faith requirements under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Key said it was "their choice" if some iwi chose to boycott today's hui and the advice the Government had received was that as long as it consulted in good faith "if someone doesn't turn up that might affect their legal position, but it certainly won't affect ours".

"You can bring a horse to water but you can't make them drink".

Asked if the boycott played into the Government's hands in terms of a potential legal challenge to the sale of Mighty River Power shares, Key responded:"Yes".

He was also unfazed by a hui last week in which 1000 iwi members voted to present a united front over their oppositon to the share float.

Key said some people were combining the general issue of water rights and interests with consultaton over the shares plus proposal, which was what the series of hui were about.

Maori have been negotiating with the Government for a number of years over recognising their rights and interests in water.

"Some people have a belief those rights and interests are more broad than the Government believes," Key said.

It would be disappointing if some Maori chose to boycott the Government's hui for that reason but it was "a free country".

It was unclear, meanwhile, whether Maori had a unified positon on the issue.

"From the media reports I've seen, there are more positions than Lady Gaga's got outfits."

Labour leader David Shearer said the consultation hui were "pointless" when the Government had already ruled out a shares plus programme.

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"Why start a hui, or go into any discussion where in fact you've already said there is no point in having this discussions cause I don't agree with what we're actually putting on the table?"

It was not real consultation but was aimed at improving the Government's position if it had to go to court, he said.

"It is not a consultation that is genuine… it's an absolute sham."

MAORI PARTY BACKS WATER CLAIM

Government ally the Maori Party is backing King Tuheitia over his claim that Maori have always owned the water.

The claim came in a statement delivered by the king as he wrapped up a 1000-strong hui last week calling for Maori to present a united front on the issue.

Key said the king was "plain wrong".

But Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said yesterday Key was wrong and the Maori Party, along with the rest of Maoridom, agreed with the king's view.

It was time for the Crown and Maori to thrash out the issue because both had different concepts of ownership.

"Till we sit down under the Treaty of Waitangi and discuss the differences . . . then this argument will go on and on."

The same difference of opinion lay at the heart of the foreshore and seabed dispute.

The important difference this time, however, was Key's word that the Crown would not legislate away Maori rights if the courts found in their favour, Dr Sharples said.

"We asked for that guarantee, the prime minister gave it and I believe he will keep his word on that."

But Key stopped short of a cast iron guarantee against legislation yesterday - only suggesting that it was unlikely to be needed, since it would probably take 20 years for any claim to wind its way through the courts.

He also appeared to pre-empt the next move from iwi leaders, who plan to present the Government with a framework for recognising Maori rights and interests over water, including decision-making powers over how water is used and allocated, and being able to share in the economic benefits of any developments.

Key said the recent settlement with Tainui giving them co-management and guardianship rights already provided a national framework.

- Fairfax Media

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