3 Aug 2018

Forum to deal with Māori concerns and interest over freshwater

6:35 pm on 3 August 2018

The Iwi Chairs Forum has taken a veiled swipe at the Crown over what it describes as a continued lack of progress on implementing Māori water rights and interests.

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Environment Minister David Parker has announced the set-up of a new forum to deal with freshwater concerns. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Environment Minister David Parker announced a new Māori freshwater forum, Te Kahui Māori Wai, would be set up at the Iwi Chairs forum at Ngaruawahia today.

However, iwi leaders said they were yet to decide if this group would adequately uphold the Treaty of Waitangi.

On the banks of the Waikato River and with mist peeling off the surrounding hills, Mr Parker made his announcement that there would be a new Māori freshwater forum.

However, the announcement of Te Kahui Wai Māori group took place behind the closed doors at the Waikato Tainui offices.

Afterwards the new group would help to protect and restore freshwater resources, Mr Parker said.

"Māori groups are also telling the government that in order to resolve our problems relating to water quality," he said.

"And for us to get to an enduring settlement we have to deal with Māori issues and we're proposing to do this in front of Te Kahui Wai Māori."

Water rights have been hotly contested across the country - and during the election campaign Labour said it would work with iwi to resolve Treaty water claims.

But the party backed down after forming a coalition government with New Zealand First, which opposes Māori water rights.

Ngā Puhi treaty negotiator Rudy Thomas said he saw similarities in the fight for Māori water rights and the foreshore and seabed controversy in 2004.

Mr Parker said he did not share the same view.

"He wasn't saying we were coming along here to announce the confiscation of Māori interests in water which was not correct."

None of the iwi chairs would speak to the media today.

But in a statement the forum said iwi were committed to an agile process to address iwi and hapū rights and interests in freshwater.

Pou Taiao chair Herewini Parata said the forum was considering whether the new freshwater group would adequately support the Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership with the Crown.

The forum confirmed its preference for a regionally focused catchment-based system.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta grew up along the banks of the Waikato River.

Ms Mahuta said the formation of the new group was moving the conversation around Māori water rights and interests forward.

"For the last nine the years the previous administrations with the iwi chair forum have been going round and round in circles and there's been no movement," she said.

The government's provincial growth fund is expected to be used to develop Māori land and water interests.

"The provincial growth fund is kind of links in there - but actually one of the biggest inhibitors of developing Māori land is the lack of access to water.

Mr Parker said Māori groups, such as the Iwi Chairs Forum and the Māori Council, would help to form the new forum and a non-Māori freshwater forum would also be created.

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