8 Aug 2012

PM accused of divide and rule over water rights

10:30 am on 8 August 2012

Opposition parties are accusing the Prime Minister of trying to divide and rule Maori in the debate over water rights.

John Key has said the Government will only deal with the matter iwi by iwi, even though a hui on Monday agreed to set up a pan-Maori response.

Those at the hui want a more unified approach to water rights but without cutting across individual iwi rights.

But Mr Key appears to have dismissed that proposal as the Government prepares to sell shares in Mighty River Power.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei supports the approach taken by the hui, saying Mr Key is trying to divide and rule Maori.

Labour Party Maori Affairs spokesperson Parekura Horomia says it feels like the race card is being played in the debate over whether Maori have proprietary rights in water.

Both he and Ms Turei say the Maori Party is being fobbed off by Mr Key.

Ms Turei says the Maori Party appears to be acting as a messenger for Maori but it has no influence on Government policy.

And Mr Horomia says it has to decide whether to continue supporting the Government.

Maori party fails to convince PM

The Maori Party met Mr Key at the Beehive late on Monday night to try to push for more consultation with Maori before the Government starts selling shares in Mighty River Power.

Mr Key reasserted his position, saying the Crown has acted in good faith and is doing nothing with its partial privatisation programme to affect Maori rights or interests in water.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says the talks were constructive and the party has no intention of walking away from its deal with the National Party.

He says action through the courts now looks like the most likely way of delaying, or halting, the partial sale of Mighty River Power.

The Government had already agreed to wait until the initial Waitangi Tribunal report on freshwater and geothermal resources, due on 24 August, before it presses on with the sale.

Dr Sharples says Mr Key reiterated that at the meeting but would promise no more than that.

Mr Key says the Government is already on a tight timetable, but will wait and take the tribunal's decision into account once it is released.

Abbreviated report by 24 August

In an interim direction at the end of July, the tribunal asked that partial asset sales be delayed until it released a more detailed report at the end of September, but the Government asked it to report back a month earlier.

The tribunal said last Monday that it is most unusual and inappropriate for the Crown to interfere but that, given the national importance of what it is dealing with, it will release an abbreviated report on 24 August, and its full report the following month.

Mr Key says he is pleased the tribunal has agreed to the Crown's request for it to hasten the delivery of its report.