By Political Editor Duncan Garner
Prime Minister John Key has conceded the first asset sale could be delayed because a legal challenge from Maori over water ownership is looking increasingly inevitable.
The admission comes as the pressure builds on Tariana Turia to lead the Maori Party out of Government.
The battle over who owns water is getting down to the nitty-gritty at the Waitangi Tribunal, with lawyers pouring over the fine details.
The Government is due to sell 49 percent of Mighty River Power in September, but the Prime Minister now admits legal action from Maori may force the sale to be delayed.
“You can't rule that out,” says Mr Key. “It's a matter that could be subject to court action. We certainly hope it's not delayed."
Court action from Maori has always been an option, but now Mr Key has gone a step further, saying it seems inevitable.
“I think we should work on the principle that there is a high probability that we will be going to court.”
Mr Key is due to meet Maori Party co-leaders Ms Turia and Pita Sharples over this issue on Wednesday.
Ms Turia has hinted she may yet walk out of the Government if a solution is not found.
Some Maori at the hearing are urging her to put her pay, perks and Crown limo aside and split.
“Position herself for freedom and the rights of our people rather than take the money as the Prime Minister's friend at the table,” says Mana Party member Annette Sykes.
“It's crunch time,” says Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul. “You either have money or you have mana, and it appears the Maori Party is all for the money.”
Ms Turia wouldn't be interviewed today but in a statement said: "The focus should be on the kaupapa of the claim at this time and not the party politics, which we consider to be a secondary issue."
Mr Key is confident the Maori Party will sit tight.
“We have a good constructive working relationship with them and I'm sure that will continue,” says Mr Key.
That is a statement to which Ms Sykes made an impassioned plea to the political leader from Whanganui – don't forget where you're from, your awa, your river.
“She is the awa and the awa is her.”
The only certainty about this issue is uncertainty itself. Ms Turia is likely to stay with the Government for now as leverage to get Maori some kind of deal.
But if she doesn't get her way, then anything is possible.
The foreshore and seabed issue created the Maori Party. For Maori, the river and water claims are no different and Ms Turia is under incredible pressure.