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Asset sales decision not binding – Key

Monday 9 Jul 2012 4:44 p.m.

By Patrick Gower

The fight against asset sales moved to the Waitangi Tribunal today, where the Maori Council wants the sales put on hold until claims to Maori ownership of water are decided.

But Prime Minister John Key says it won't work because the Government will just ignore the tribunal.

But they are calling for asset sales to be stopped because Maori own the water the power companies rely on.

“Maori own the freshwater,” says Maori Council chairman Maanu Paul. “They own the geothermal water and they own the aquifers under the ground and the lakes and rivers.”

The claim is that “Maori have proprietary rights to fresh water and geothermal resources", and therefore "[assets sales] will prejudice Maori in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi”.

The Maori Council wants the sales stopped until this question is answered.

“We need to sit down and work out how much you are going to pay us to use our water,” says Mr Paul.

The claim covers Maori challenges to resources directly related to the first asset for sale, Mighty River Power.

Yet Mr Key says even if the Tribunal rules in favour it does not matter – it is not binding.

That is wrong, says retired High Court Judge Eddie Durie, who is spearheading the Maori Council claim.

“That's like turning your back against a law and that's a pretty heavy thing to do,” he says.

The council is prepared to make a heavy response. It will go to a higher court, for a binding injunction, before shares to Mighty River Power go on sale as expected in September.

Mr Key's attitude towards the Tribunal was called a political snub to his governing partner, the Maori Party.

“I think now is the time for the Maori party to say ‘if you are not even bothering listening, we are out’,” says Mana Party leader Hone Harawira.

It's understood the Government is expecting a legal challenge of some form to come from Maori. But strategists say they are confident of winning.

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