Opposition parties say the Government’s attempts to divide Maori over water rights have backfired and the issue has become National’s ‘‘foreshore and seabed’’ controversy.
About 1000 Maori from the biggest to the smallest iwi are meeting for a national hui on Maori water rights convened by the Maori King Tuheitia at Ngaruawahia's Turangawaewae Marae.
They agreed Maori should speak with one voice on the issue and overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling on the Government to halt the sale of shares in state-owned power companies until it established a framework for recognising Maori proprietary rights in water. They also warned they could test the case in court.
Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the Government had tried to divide Maori by working with the Iwi Leaders Group while at the same time denigrating the Maori Council, whose claim sparked a Waitangi Tribunal report calling on the Government to halt its asset sales programme because it breached the Treaty.
"That has now completely backfired. They have effectively unified iwi against them. It looks like iwi are more determined and united than ever."
The resolve of the hui would make make asset sales more difficult, he said.
"It means court action will be much better funded because they have all come out and said they will support it financially. When the Maori Council goes to court, they will be in a very strong position to argue they do represent all Maori."
The Government has rejected the Tribunal’s call for a national water settlement and its preference is to deal with water rights on an iwi by iwi basis.
It has been negotiating with the Iwi Leaders Group, which represents the country’s biggest iwi, and the fresh water forum, but has refused to engage with the Maori Council.
There has been unease about the influence of the leaders group among Maori and concern it doesn’t represent smaller iwi.The leaders group is meeting today at Ngaruawahia.
The former Labour government felt the wrath of united Maori when it passed the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2004.
It resulted in Labour losing much of its traditional support from Maori, four of the Maori seats and led Tariana Turia to quit the party to form the Maori Party.
Labour’s state-owned enterprises spokesman Clayton Cosgrove today said water rights had become National’s foreshore and seabed.
"‘The Government was warned of this, this is of their own making because they have mismanaged this."
The entire asset sales programme was now in jeopardy, he said.
It was ‘‘bizarre’’ that a commercial ‘‘whiz kid’’ like Prime Minister John Key had handled the first share float of Mighty River Power so badly, he said.
"You have to clear the decks, you have to ensure that all issues are tied down and resolved. I’ve never seen an IPO (initial public offering) in the worst financial conditions, pending court action and with a quasi judicial authority recommending it not go ahead."
The Maori Party also needed to take responsibility for "this mess".
‘‘They said they had fixed it, they said they had done the deal and they paraded like weekend warriors around the marae. Well they have come a gutsa.’’
- Waikato Times