11 Jul 2012

Make Maori guardians of rivers, tribunal told

11:16 pm on 11 July 2012

An iwi has told the Waitangi Tribunal hearing into water rights that Maori could be grand kaitiaki (guardians) of rivers for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

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 Maori Council is seeking recognition of water rights and a recommendation to freeze the Crown's sale of some shares in four power companies.

The tribunal began urgent hearings at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt on Monday.

Ngati Rangi, at the base of Mount Ruapehu, told the tribunal on Wednesday it was never consulted over Genesis Energy taking water for the Tongariro hydro scheme.

Iwi member Toni Waho said rivers in the tribal region are polluted by farmers and a pulp mill and flows have been diverted to produce power.

Mr Waho said that with shares in hydro operations about to be offered to private investors, there is an entire shift of thinking in how the Crown will generate electricity, and Maori rights are being ignored.

After delivering evidence on Wednesday, Mr Waho told Radio New Zealand that Maori aren't ruling out the idea of partial asset sales, but that's not the primary focus right now.

He says the major piece of the puzzle is addressing water rights, whether businesses or iwi.

Mr Waho says the Government has to face the issue because like the Foreshore and Seabed it will not go away.

Crown should be patient over share sales - witness

The Tribunal inquiry heard that the Crown should be patient and hold back on selling shares in selected state-owned enterprises, because Maori have waited years for their grievances to be settled.

Steven Michener, who has a background in investing and consulting, presented a submission to the Waitangi Tribunal on Wednesday, in his role an expert witness for the Maori Council.

He says some claims by Maori go back 20 years.

Mr Michener says water rights are only being examined now because the Crown wants to sell shares in some hydro power plants.

He says the plants are effectively water, because if it is taken away then power can't be produced.

Mr Michener says if the Crown sells assets that use water, the question of ownership can't be resolved.