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Maori water rights claim at Supreme Court

Thursday 31 Jan 2013 6:07 p.m.

The Maori Council's last effort to delay the partial sale of state owned power companies is underway in the Supreme Court.

The council maintains it's a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi to sell the assets.

Passersby outnumbered Maori Council supporters outside the Supreme Court, but inside their numbers swelled.

“What the court is being asked to do is make a declaration that until the Crown implements agreed protective measures, the privatisation is unlawful,” Maori Council lawyer Colin Carruthers QC said today.

Maori groups supporting the appeal say the case is a real test for the Treaty of Waitangi.

“We have to be confident - and we are confident because our arguments are based on principle,” Pouakani chairman Tamati Cairns said.

The argument is, the Government's plan to sell up to 49 percent of shares in Mighty River Power goes against the Treaty of Waitangi because under the treaty, the Crown is obliged to provide Maori with some control over their own water resources.

“Once those power companies are sold, the only interest Maori have in the water is a financial one and that is not what Maori interest in water is all about,” Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said.

The appeal to the Supreme Court comes after the High Court last year threw out the Council's challenge against the Government's plan to partially sell state-owned assets.

The Crown accepts Maori have some rights over water - but not full ownership.

The hearing will continue tomorrow - the five Supreme Court judges are expected to reserve their decision.

The Government plans to start selling shares in Mighty River Power as early as March.

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