21 Jul 2012

Crown debates term ownership at last day of water hearing

10:06 am on 21 July 2012

The Crown has focused on the different way Maori and Pakeha interpret the term ownership in its closing address on the final day of the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into water rights.

The urgent claim was filed by the Maori Council as a result of the Government's proposal to sell up to 49% of four state-owned companies, including power companies that use hydro generation.

In his closing arguments on Friday, Crown lawyer Kieran Raftery described the matters covered by the inquiry as falling under three themes: water rights, state-owned shares and remedies.

Mr Raftery spoke about a disconnection between the terms ownership and kaitiakitanga (guardianship), saying this wasn't part of the debate.

He said several witnesses had rejected the term ownership, seeing their role as kaitiaki.

Mr Raftery indicated the matter forces the Crown and Maori to find a common language.

He told the tribunal the Government is not selling shares in water but is proposing to sell shares in power enterprises.

As well, the Crown focused on the Government's engagement with the Iwi leaders Forum to discuss water.

It also told the tribunal that offering state-owned shares as redress to Maori would not be a secure investment.

No justice, says Maanu Paul

Maori Council members and their lawyers criticised the Crown's closing submission, which they said focused on the semantics of what is meant by water rights, instead of on Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Council co-chair Maanu Paul says the reference to a disconnection is a diversionary tactic.

He says the main issue is whether or not Maori have justice under the proposed mixed ownership model, and he says they don't.

Mr Paul remains optimistic the Waitangi Tribunal will supports its claim to water rights.

"If you were the lady with the scales, the balance of justice, I think it's heavily weighted in our favour."

The Maori Council, which wrapped up its submissions earlier, requested the opportunity to respond to the Crown verbally, but the tribunal rejected the call.

The tribunal retired on Friday, after eight days hearing submissions.

It expects to issue a memorandum of direction by the end of the month indicating whether Maori interest in water will be affected by the share sales.