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Friday, 23 Mar 2007
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Row brews over who owns NZ's water

By VERNON SMALL - The Dominion Post | Friday, 23 March 2007
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The Government is headed for a clash with Maori over who owns New Zealand's fresh water - a row that could become as heated as the battle over the foreshore and seabed.

The Maori Party claimed yesterday that the Government was unfairly claiming ownership of fresh water in an attempt to extinguish Maori customary rights without negotiation or compensation.

The party's stance has raised the possibility it will use the issue as a new rallying point and could also prompt some iwi to take legal action to test who owns the water in rivers, lakes and streams.

Similar action to test the ownership of the foreshore and seabed saw the Government forced to legislate for Crown ownership, a move that led to the birth of the Maori Party.

Answering questions in Parliament yesterday, Associate Environment Minister Nanaia Mahuta made it clear the Government believed it controlled fresh water.

"I can state categorically that the Government's position is that water is a public resource which the Government and local authorities will continue to manage on behalf of all New Zealanders."

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the statement amounted to an assertion of crown ownership, "despite the fact that it would appear they have received a considerable amount of advice clearly stating that Maori customary rights to water still exist or are, at the very least, contestable".

She said the Government's Sustainable Water Programme of Action, looking at issues of water management, "is really just another foreshore and seabed catastrophe dressed up".

The foreshore furore was triggered by an Appeal Court ruling that Maori groups could argue in court that they had customary title over parts of the foreshore and seabed.

Mrs Turia said Maori were committed to ensuring water quality and sustainable use.

"But the issues of water ownership and crown obligations to engage with Maori as partners to the Treaty of Waitangi are a vital part of this debate and cannot be unilaterally decided by one side of the Treaty partnership.

"It seems the Government thinks it can avoid another major nationwide clash with Maori by simply saying they already own water."

She suggested the Government was blurring the issues "to create the illusion of crown ownership of water for the public good so that the Government can be free to sell off water rights to overseas conglomerates as they do with the chunks of foreshore and seabed, prime coastal properties and farmland".

Ms Mahuta said the Government had yet to receive specific advice but a proposal by a Maori technical advisory group, received in January, would be considered. It had no intention of privatising water.

The Maori Party's Treaty spokesman, Te Ururoa Flavell, said tangata whenua respected their customary rights to water as the exercise of tino rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga over waterways.

The Waitangi Tribunal had stated in its reports on Whanganui River and Mohaka River that water was a taonga.

"As such, Maori customary title to water belongs to iwi and hapu, according to tikanga Maori," he said.

"The writing is on the wall. Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the human rights laws and standards that were breached with the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, will now be breached in the case of water."

Victoria University Maori Studies lecturer Maria Bargh, in a paper on freshwater issues, said ownership of water was unclear and the Crown must negotiate with Maori and pay compensation if it wanted to extinguish customary title.

"There is no evidence that customary title has been extinguished by common law or statute law."


Will this never end? First it's the land, then the seabed and foreshore, now the fresh water, next must be the very air we breath. It's time the average New Zealander said enough is enough, this is one country and everyone living here should be treated and have the same rights to everything as everyone else. There should be no Maori rights, it should be New Zealander rights, we are becoming a racist nation, where the racism is against 95 per cent of the population and for the other 5 per cent who are Maori. I was born and raised in New Zealand, the way it's going though I won't die here. Australia looks better every day.
David Main

After having travelled around the world and been through the London bombings and dealing with the constant threat of lunatics plotting to blow up public areas I open to find what? The Maori Party are up in arms over ownership wrights of the fresh water in the country? Get a grip! There are more important things going on in the world than attempting to 'own' natural resource that has fallen from the sky possibly coming from over Australia - so maybe we should consult with the Aboriginies as to whether they are happy with the Maori claiming rights to their natural resource. Actually, don't bother. Why don't the Maori Party just stop wasting New Zealand's taxes and precious governmental time on vacuous subjects. Get some perspective and think about New Zealand as a whole country in a whole world, life is too short.
Steve ten Have

The legal fraternity will love the Maoris' latest claim to the fresh water in New Zealand. Like the air we breath - where did ir come from originally? Something as indefinable as this will keep lawyers in Mercedes and BMWs for years. Why did my late godfather (a lawyer) talk me out of getting into that gravy train?
Lou Harrison-Smith

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