Iwi wants full Maori ownership of state assets

10:45 pm on 10 July 2012

An iwi has suggested to the Waitangi Tribunal that Maori should own all of the state assets being sold - plus the Crown's remaining majority share.

The tribunal is hearing from claimants who want ownership and management issues settled by the Crown before the partial sale of selected state-owned assets.

The Mixed Ownership Model Bill passed in Parliament by 61 votes to 60 on 26 June this year. The legislation opens the door for the sale of up to 49% of shares in Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power and Solid Energy.

The tribunal began urgent hearings at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt on Monday on water claims filed by the Maori Council on behalf of iwi. The council is seeking recognition of water rights and a recommendation to freeze Crown share sales in the companies.

The Crown will begin to put its side of the argument from Friday.

Auckland iwi Ngati Te Ata made its submission on Tuesday, proposing that 51% of shares in hydro-electric generators - which the Crown plans to retain - should go to Maori with customary rights to rivers in their regions.

It says the other 49% should go to all tangata whenua (people of the land) throughout New Zealand.

A representative for the tribe, Roimata Minhinnick, says the distribution of the fishing catch quota to Maori is an example of how ownership can be managed through one collective body.

Mr Minhinnick believes that 51% of shares should go to tribal authorities to ensure they are retained in New Zealand for all New Zealanders.

However, he acknowledges they may only get 5%, but wants the Crown to consider the proposal.

Investors 'need clarity'

Any uncertainty over water rights is bad news for investors considering buying shares in an energy company, the tribunal was told on Tuesday.

Independent energy consultant Brian Cox told the hearing the lack of clarity would cause problems for an investor, because the matter of who owns which section of a waterway is unclear.

Mr Cox says ownership of water could be settled through providing mana whenua with shares in the state assets. However, his preference would be to introduce royalty payments to Maori for the use of water that flows through turbines.

He says the fees model works well with landowners and he has previously set up schemes where farmers receive royalty payments for allowing energy companies to install wind turbines on their land.

Hapu blames Government

A Bay of Plenty hapu, or sub-tribe, says the Government is to blame for Maori seeking ownership of rivers, springs and lakes.

Tapuika, of Te Arawa, says that by offering of parts of state-owned hydro-electric companies to private investors the Crown has commercialised its right to water - a right given to the Crown by Maori.

Hapu representative Anthony Wihapi told the tribunal they have been left with no choice but to challenge the Crown.

Mr Wihapi says Maori have been quite comfortable for years with the Government and its agencies using natural resources for the benefit of the whole nation. However, he says things have now become serious because tribal property is set to be stolen.

Water rights claimed for Kaituna

Another descendant of the Te Arawa sub-tribe told the tribunal on Monday that it has never before said it owned a part of the Kaituna River, but now it wants that right.

Rereamanu Wihapisays his tribe has always had a strong connection to the lower section of the river which runs into the Maketu estuary.

He says his iwi wholeheartedly depends on the river. The bones of deceased were placed in caves next to the Kaituna and it also provides food for the people.

Mr Wihapi says its relationship with the water has changed; the tribe does not use it as often because of pollution, which the council is addressing.

However, Mr Wihapi says Maori still want ownership rights so they can treat the river near Te Puke for future generations to use.