Their claims may hold no water, but Maori Council will splash out on lawyers regardless

The Boss says a claim that Maori own water has no basis and will not hold up the Government’s privatisation programme.

Lots of highly paid lawyers – on the strength of this – are wasting judges’ time and clients’ money.

One lot of lawyers today will be asking the Waitangi Tribunal to stall the Crown’s sales of shares in state-owned enterprises in a case connected to a wider urgent water rights claim by the Maori Council.

The other lot of lawyers will be arguing that these Maori Council claims are a load of bollocks and should be laughed out of the court, or tribunal, except these lawyers will take much much longer to say this and they will express their objections in terms that only patient judges can understand.

Lawyers won’t be the only beneficiaries.

Bus operators stand to make a buck, too, because (according to the NZ Herald here) six buses of Maori leaders from Ngapuhi, Tainui, Tauranga Moana and Te Arawa have travelled to Lower Hutt for the urgent hearing.

Six busloads of the buggers?

What happens to the local Maori economy when the leadership has shot through to Wellington for a week or so?

The hearing is at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt and the Maori Council lawyers will be arguing that iwi and hapu grievances need to be settled before the state-owned enterprises are partially privatised.

According to the Radio New Zealand report here –

The Maori Council says the sale of shares should not go ahead until historical claims have been resolved.

It says the Government is selling shares on the basis that the right to use water is free, when Maori say it’s not.

The Crown is opposed to an urgent hearing, saying any Maori claims to water and geothermal resources would not be compromised by the privatisation of power company shares.

It contends that Maori rights in water have not been established, and it’s not a matter for a short, urgent hearing.

But the Crown says it remains committed to further talks with mana whenua and tangata whenua about water rights.

The first part of the hearing will run into early next week.

This augurs well for the income streams of the lawyers involved.

Mind you, they should not use the word “streams”, because this might invite Maori Council claims to them too.

Obviously, this tribunal carry-on poses a risk to the timetable for the Mighty River sale, as The Boss has already acknowledged.

The NZ Herald quotes him here on the matter.

“That’s always a possibility that could slow up the process,” he said.

“The Government’s view is that there’s not merit to any litigation and that the issues of water which sit at the heart of any potential litigation have been well and truly covered through lots of other things we’re doing, but I’m simply saying there’s always a risk.”

Actually, Alf gets the firm impression that this is a scrap between the Maori Council and the Iwi Leaders’ Forum as much as it is a claim to halt the SOE share sales.

The Government, as we all know, is negotiating with the Iwi Leaders Forum over Maori rights and interests in freshwater.

But in its statement of claim, the Maori Council says the forum is not speaking on behalf of all Maori and the negotiations are taking place before all relevant Treaty claims have been heard.

Should the Government be worried?

Not according to State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall.

He has said the Crown would cite the Ika Whenua case in 1990s, when the Appeal Court denied a bid to block a Government plan to transfer dams to energy companies because Maori rights would not be diminished.

But a much more reassuring statement on the matter is reported here.

Claims that Maori own water have no basis and will not hold up the Government’s privatisation programme, says the Prime Minister.

There. That’s an unambiguous expression of the Government’s position.

Let’s get on with the sales and let the lawyers have their side-show at the tribunal.

The Boss sounded pretty certain on the matter of who owns what.

Prime Minister John Key told TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning that concerns over water use were already being addressed by the Government.

“The Government addresses those genuine rights that Maori have through a variety of different mechanisms, but whether Mighty River Power is 100 per cent owned by the Government, or 51 per cent owned doesn’t alter the 30-year water rights they may have.

“They have a legitimate right, they have always historically had a connection with the river and they care passionately about that and we work with them,” he said.

“We don’t believe anybody owns water. What we do accept is that people own water rights. We don’t think the sale of 49 per cent of Mighty River Power in any way impinges on those water rights,” he said.

Fair to say, Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul told the programme Maori own the water.

“As far as my people are concerned we are the water and the water is us,” he told Breakfast.

“It is controversial because in 1996 we had a claim decision that said we have proprietary rights akin to ownership – it’s been 16 years, we’ve been waiting for Government to talk to us about our proprietary interests in water.”

But The Boss said even if the Waitangi Tribunal found Maori hold interests in water the Government would not have to accept the decision.

“The Waitangi Tribunal’s rulings are not binding on the Government, so we could choose to ignore what findings they might have – I’m not saying we would, but we could.”

And that’s why Alf says the lawyers are wasting their time and their clients’ money with their carry-on before the tribunal.

But wait.

Maybe he didn’t fully grasp what might happen.

If the Government won’t act on the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, it seems the Maori Council could take its case to the High Court.

They have demonstrated a lusty liking for litigious action in the past and are sure to go as far as they can go with this one.

Maybe lots of highly paid lawyers are not wasting their clients’ time.

At least, those who come out on the winning side won’t have wasted their clients’ money.

Here’s hoping they are the Crown’s lawyers.

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