English defends water rights hui

MATT BOWEN AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 19:20 18/09/2012

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Only a handful of people, including two protesters, arrived to hear Finance Minister Bill English's presentation at a hui on water rights in Hamilton tonight.

Some sub-tribes of  Tainui, one of the country's biggest iwi,  have boycotted the hui, which is the first of six 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.

Media have been allowed into tonight’s hui but were asked to stop recording when Mr English finished speaking.

When asked if the hui had become a farce because iwi leaders had boycotted it, Mr English defended the process.

"It's not a farce because the Crown has a set of obligations laid out by the courts and we intend to meet those obligations. Iwi aren't obliged to be here and they don't have to come.

"We're here to follow on from the process the (Waitangi) Tribunal laid  out and clearly some of the local iwi have a different view about that process.

"It is a consultation hui. If the iwi don't want to be consulted in this way that's up to them.

"It is unusual, usually there are plenty of takers up for a hui."

Mr English was confident other iwi would attend further meetings over the next 10 days.

A hui of Maori leaders last week called on  the Government to negotiate a national framework for recognising Maori rights and interests in water before embarking on iwi-by-iwi negotiations - and warned that Maori would take a challenge to court over the Government’s plan to sell shares in the state-owned power companies if it refused.

Waikato-Tainui, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Koroki Kahukura and Hauraki iwi had been invited to tonight's meeting, but declined in a show of support for King Tuheitia.

Protesters Kiriana Waru and Alvina Edwards tried to set up protest signs in the meeting room but were told to take them outside before Mr English arrived.

"Our bottom line is no asset sales. There's no use selling a ladder when you are stuck in a hole. It seems crazy really,’’ Ms Waru said.

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"I'm here for the minority of people who don't get a say anyway. At the end of the day we're poor and we get impacted by whatever decisions happen upstairs but we're not getting a chance to speak up.''

Four further hui will be held over 10 days with iwi and hapu considered to have a special connection to freshwater and geothermal resources used by state-owned energy companies.

GOVERNMENT ‘WASTING PEOPLE’S TIME’

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said earlier today that the hui could not be considered genuine consultation if one side already had a predetermined notion, she said.

"That's not consultation, that's wasting people's time.

"They already have a predetermined their position and so that's not consultation, that's going out and telling people what it is."

The Government were obviously trying to "tick that box" so if a court case arises they can claim they consulted with Maori, Turia said.

She is meeting with the Government tomorrow night and will pass on her concerns.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson said he has "got something between my ears" and so had come to a position on shares plus.

It was cynical to suggest the consultation hui were only window dressing for a possible court case, he said.

"These are our views, prove us wrong if you want to. That's what consultation is about.

"I recognise that I'm not infallible and if someone can prove me wrong that's great. That's what an open mind is all about."

He said it was an important issue of consultation and he thought Tainui could have turned up.

"But anyway it's their choice."

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

"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."

- Waikato Times

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