15 Sep 2012

Maori accept challenge to unite on water rights

8:48 am on 15 September 2012

Iwi throughout New Zealand have embraced the Maori King's challenge to confront the Government over water rights.

At least 1000 people attended the national summit called by Kingi Tuheitia at Turangawaewae Marae on Thursday.

The hui in the Waikato town of Ngaruawahia was prompted by the Government's decision to speak to selected iwi separately ahead of its partial sale of state-owned Mighty River Power.

The meeting voted to stand united and form a group to represent all Maori in negotiating with the Crown.

On Friday, the Iwi Chairs Forum formally endorsed the resolution by senior Maori for tribal unity and backed the continued work of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group which meets government ministers to discuss water reforms.

Haami Piripi, the chair of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa in the Far North, said iwi and hapu are free to enter consultation with the Crown - because each tribe has its own mana.

However, Mr Piripi said iwi leaders are united in not entering negotiations with the Government ahead of the planned partial privatisation of state-owned hydro-power generators.

The Iwi Chairs Forum is made up of the leaders of 64 iwi and meets every three months.

Te Arawa chairperson Toby Curtis, a member of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, believes Maori and the Government can come to an agreement that all parties are happy with.

Mr Curtis says the team that will be chosen to negotiate with the Crown must get together quickly and decide the finer details of its approach. He says similar difficult issues have cropped up since the 1980s and Maori have found a way though.

But the Government said on Friday the resolutions at the hui make no difference to the way it intends to negotiate with Maori over water rights. It acknowledged Maori interests and rights in water, but still believes the best way to approach that is iwi by iwi.

King says Maori have won a battle

Kingi Tuheitia closed the hui on Thursday, pledging the King movement's full support in protecting Maori rights and interests in water.

He said Maori won a battle with the Government over its plan to sell state-owned enterprise Coalcorp, now known as Solid Energy, and is now preparing for another battle.

"We must not allow the Government to divide and and rule us again," he told the hui.

The hui voted to act quickly before any shares are sold in state-owned power companies, and before any iwi or hapu decide to go it alone and enter negotiations with the Crown.

The resolution from the meeting will be taken to all iwi and hapu for consideration before negotiations begin. The hui agreed that if negotiations with the Crown are unsuccessful, then full support will be given to the Maori Council in any court battle.

Government accused of sparking racial conflict

The Government is being accused of sparking political and racial conflict with its determination to press on with its partial privatisation programme of state-owned assets.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the Government's plan to use water from lakes and rivers to which Maori have historical ties for commercial profit was the equivalent of poking a stick into a wasp's nest.

Mr Peters says the Government has sparked a political and racial conflict that could pit New Zealanders against each other for years to come.

Labour's Clayton Cosgrove says potential court action creates yet another hurdle for the asset sales programme.