Dated: Thursday 28th February 2013
As a result of the Supreme Court decision, Government will no longer be able to ignore any findings of the Waitangi Tribunal on Maori water rights, as the Tribunal moves to the second stage of its water rights inquiry. The Supreme Court has made its decision on the basis of government promises and assurances that appropriate recognition of customary Maori interests in water would be made following the current inquiries.
This has greatly strengthened the position of the hapu and iwi advancing their claims through stage 2 of the Tribunal inquiry.
This is not the end of a rugby game where we have either won or lost. It’s an ongoing chess match where the position on the board has changed.
The claim was brought to the Tribunal a year ago when the government said that Maori could have no claims to interests in water. Government has now acknowledged to the Supreme Court that Maori do have interests and rights in relation to particular waters.
The government had said it need not have regard to the Tribunal’s recommendations. It has now testified to the Court on its concern to respond appropriately to the outcomes of the Waitangi Tribunal’s work, and to the fact that the Waitangi Tribunal inquiry is addressing the identification of Maori interests.
Governments must now be held to those statements given the reliance which the Supreme Court has placed upon them in reaching a decision in this case. The Court has also considered those statements in the context of the Tribunal’s current inquiry into how such recognition may be given. As a result the Supreme Court has added considerable weight to the outcome of the Tribunal’s deliberations in the second stage of its inquiry, and has opened a door to review government action in relation to the Waikato River, and other rivers and geothermal fields, in any case where appropriate recognition is not given.
Accordingly while the Supreme Court has not gone as far as we would have liked, by deferring the sales until a formal agreement on the way forward was secured, and the claimants are disappointed in that respect, the Court has effectively given formal effect to the promises and assurances which the government has in fact made.
Donna Hall on behalf of the New Zealand Maori Council and the Claimant Management Group.