Maori rights to freshwater big talking point between iwi and the government at Waitangi

Prime Minister Bill English says some issues raised at the Iwi Chairs Forum will take a while to progress.
JASON DORDAY/FAIRFAX NZ

Prime Minister Bill English says some issues raised at the Iwi Chairs Forum will take a while to progress.

The host of the Iwi Chairs Forum says Prime Minister Bill English is a "safe pair of hands" to deal with.

Harry Burkhardt, chair of Ngati Kuri who hosted the forum in Waitangi on Friday, said English was "a known quantity to iwi" and a long relationship between him and Maori makes engaging with him easier, which was important because "the ability for us to have that conversation is possibly our currency".

English attended the forum, along with his deputy Paula Bennett and 11 other ministers, where issues including freshwater rights, vulnerable children legislation and Maori land reforms were debated.

Chair of Waikato-Tainui, Rahui Papa, said iwi were discussing possible models of allocation of freshwater and it's hoped a decision would be finalised by Waitangi next year.

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"We want the same opportunities for iwi as corporates get now. So bottling companies can take the whole 100 per cent of some of the flows of the tributaries of rivers."

Iwi want enough water to "sustain the flow" and whatever is left can be offered up for allocation, he said.

The vulnerable children legislation currently before Parliament was another talking point at the forum, and Papa said a "whanau first" approach was absolutely necessary.

"We think whanau, hapu and iwi are best placed to look after children who have been moved into state hands and if they're given an opportunity to be in their own cultural context with their own heritage and legacy, then that helps the child and helps alleviate some of the pressures as they go through life," he said.

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English described the meeting as "open gritty engagement that really gets us somewhere" but acknowledged progress in some areas "takes a while".

"We've got a pretty good relationship - it's constructive and forward looking and it's responsible."

"Iwi leaders get up and tell us exactly what they're after, they push and shove a bit and it's all in the spirit of respect and that's how we make progress," he said.

 - Stuff

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