Water spat: Turia stays mum on future with National
TRACY WATKINS AND KATE CHAPMAN
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia is refusing to be drawn on the minor party's future with National and said that would be up to members and the outcome of discussions with Key.
But she said Key's comments about Maori water rights were inflammatory and had stirred up race relations.
The Maori Party co-leaders said last night they would be seeking urgent talks with Key but they have not yet been able to make contact.
Key today said he was happy to meet with its leaders, but just not this week.
Turia today showed her support for a Maori Council claim centred on water rights by coming to Lower Hutt's Waiwhetu Marae where the Waitangi Tribunal is hearing evidence.
The issue has flared into prominence over the government's plans to sell off a stake in the State-owned power companies and Maori demands that it settle issues over water ownership first.
Key had rejected any suggestion Maori owned the water and said the Government may ignore any Tribunal ruling stating otherwise.
In a strongly worded statement last night, the Maori Party labelled his comments an "insult".
Speaking outside the Waitangi Tribunal today, Turia said she could not confirm whether the coalition agreement with National might be in trouble.
"That remains to be seen.... I can't confirm anything at this point. We haven't had an opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister. "
Turia said Key was only stating a fact and everyone knew the Government was not bound by Waitangi Tribunal rulings.
But the Maori Party was disappointed at the way those comments were made and concerned Key was pre-empting due process.
"I think we have had a really respectful relationship all the way through. and I imagine he will understand the reasons why we are feeling the way we are."
There have been calls by Labour and other Opposition parties today for the Maori Party to walk away from its deal with National but Turia said what Labour did over the foreshore and seabed was worse.
"That's why to be frank anything labour has got to say on this issue...who cares what they say and what they think actually."
Asked if she agreed Maori owned water Turia said: "I've grown up in Whanganui and our iwi have never talked about ownership but they have talked about their rights, responsibilities and their obligations under article two of the Treaty, and I guess if we say pre-colonisation people believed they had a particular relationship with those rivers,that is being denied them.``
She said the main purpose of talking to Key was to communicate to him how disappointed the Maori Party were.
"It has been inflammatory when you look at all the radio talk back; the kind of things people say...the very sad thing about it is when ever any politician makes comments it basically gives everybody permission...... to be able to make the most damaging comments ..about us as tangata and of course the same thing is happening this time around. "
Key said he was happy to meet the Maori Party so when his schedule allowed.
"Obviously we're more than happy to talk to them. My phone is always on. Always happy to receive a call from them."
His travel schedule would not allow a face-to-face visit until next week.
In Christchurch this morning, Key batted away suggestions the relationship was strained.
"We have good debates, there are many areas where we don't agree."
He stood by his statements and said he would not say anything to the co-leaders that he hadn't said publicly.
"My position is rock solid and it's not about to change. In my view no one owns water."
He said never suggested Government would ignore the Tribunal's recommendations and it was a statement of fact that they were not binding.
The Government will "eagerly await" the ruling.
"There's nothing new in my statements… it's just a statement of the position."
He disputed that his comments were intended to incite anger towards Maori.
New Zealanders expected the prime minister to state his or her position, Key said.
He also hoped the matter would not delay the sale of state owned energy companies.
"I can't for the life of me see why the sale of shares in Mighty River power would have any impact on the issue of water.
"It's irrelevant what the ownership makeup of that company is in relation to the arguably disputed issue of water ownership."
He would not comment on whether it would impact the share price.