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Saturday, 24 Mar 2007
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Warning of challenge on freshwater rights

By VERNON SMALL - The Dominion Post | Saturday, 24 March 2007
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A court challenge is inevitable unless the Government negotiates with Maori on customary rights to fresh water, a "river iwi" source warns.

Maori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia accused the Maori Party yesterday of making "a mountain out of a molehill" in its claims that the Government was unfairly asserting ownership of fresh water.

"The Maori Party has failed to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act as it promised and it is now trying to create another tidal wave around so-called confiscation. It won't work. Iwi saw what happened last time and will see this for what it is," he said.

The source, who was not linked to the Maori Party, said freshwater rights were the last set of natural rights to be resolved. "If they are taking to themselves to allocate water rights ... then at some stage Maori are going to say they are behaving as if they own this, or that they have a right to do it. So where's our right?"

Mr Horomia said successive governments had said water was a public resource, which the Crown would manage on the public's behalf. "Iwi do have interests in water and these are being progressively recognised in settlements, as well as through various consultation measures."

Maori Party Treaty spokesman Te Ururoa Flavell reiterated that customary rights to fresh water were unfinished business. "Much like the seabed and foreshore issue, it's an arrogant government that's gone ahead and assumed they do have ownership."

Government sources said concerns had grown because holders of time-limited tradeable water permits, such as farmers and energy generators, wanted to be able to trade them over a longer period.

Representatives of Ngai Tahu, Whanganui, Tuwharetoa and Tainui iwi met at two hui last year to coordinate the fight for Maori interests in fresh water.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said claims to customary rights went beyond what was acceptable to most Kiwis. "The fresh water claim simply raises the question, `Who owns the rain?'."

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