18 Sep 2012

PM confident hui boycott wil play into Govt's hands

3:25 pm on 18 September 2012

Prime Minister John Key believes any boycott of a hui on water rights in Hamilton on Tuesday will play into the Government's hands.

It is the first of six meetings Finance Minister Bill English is holding around the country over 10 days after the Government decided to delay the sale of shares in state-owned company Mighty River Power until early 2013.

Mr English is holding the hui to consult iwi and hapu on the Waitangi Tribunal proposal that they be given a special shareholding (known as shares plus) in the partially-privatised power companies and rights above those of other shareholders.

The Government rejects that proposal, but is still consulting iwi who have a specific connection to freshwater and geothermal resources used by state-owned power companies Mighty River Power, Meridian and Genesis.

A national hui of iwi and hapu called by the Maori King, Tuheitia, in Ngaruawahia last week agreed that no iwi should negotiate with the Government until a national framework for dealing with water rights has been developed. The Government has also rejected that idea.

Mr Key says the Government is consulting in good faith over the tribunal's suggestion that Maori be given the special shareholding and rights above those of other shareholders.

A number of iwi say they will not turn up to Tuesday's hui because they want the Government to agree to a national framework for negotiating with them over water rights before proceeding with the partial sale of the power companies.

But Mr Key is not worried by the likely boycott, saying the Government's legal position - if the matter goes to court - will only be stronger.

"The advice I've had is as long as we undertake our consultation in good faith as we are, if someone doesn't turn up that might affect their legal position - but it certainly doesn't affect ours."

Mr Key is also confident that Maori, despite last week's national hui, are not unified on the matter of water rights. "There are kind of more positions than Lady Gaga's got outfits."

Labour Party leader David Shearer says it is pointless for Maori to turn up to the hui, given the Government's position.

"I think if anybody looks at this and sees what John Key has been saying about the shares plus rejecting it out of hand and yet going along the proposal for shares plus and asking people to talk about it - it's an absolute sham."

Maori Council co-chair Maanu Paul says he had been told by Tainui leader Tukoroirangi Morgan that no one will be attending the hui on Tuesday.

However, one representative who intends to go, Tainui Waka Alliance chairman Harry Mikaere, says he will listen to information from the Government but will not take part in discussion.