A group of high profile Maori elders are fighting back against the Government's plan for an ocean sanctuary in the Kermadec islands -- and are taking the issue to court.
Led by Sir Tipene O'Regan, the group says the sanctuary removes fishing rights promised under a Treaty settlement in 1992.
Sir Tipene O'Regan (Richard Cooper / Newshub.)
That settlement allows Maori to fish in the 620,000sqkm area -- a right the elders say will be removed under the proposed sanctuary.
In a press conference this morning, Sir Tipene said Maori's right to development had been overruled by the New Zealand government when it did not involve them in consultations about the sanctuary.
He accused the Government of being pushed around by overseas lobbies and "dancing to someone else's tune".
The group expressed concern that the lack of consultation on the sanctuary indicates Treaty settlements are becoming worthless.
The other elders include Dame Tariana Turia, Sir Mark Solomon and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi.
(Richard Cooper / Newshub.)
"Treaty rights could be subverted or seen to be not as important in the debate," Dame Iritana said.
"This is not just about Maori being a nuisance, it's about Maori in terms of its development in this country in the long term."
Forest and Bird marine advocate Anton van Helden said the idea the Government had been under overseas pressure was "nonsense".
"It's a bit rich to say this is some sort of colonial mandate, it's a global message we need to pull up our socks and do more for our oceans."
Mr van Helden said a World Wildlife Fund report, Shining a Spotlight, had highlighted the Kermadec Trench as an important region to protect more than a decade ago.
"People talk about cultural rights but by the same token, we need to look at the state of our planet and what we need to do. Some places shine out as needing our protection, [the Kermadecs] is one of those places."
Mr Key reiterated the Government's position today, saying he didn't think there would be an economic loss to Maori.
"We also think Maori have been strong advocates for conservation and for the preservation of both fisheries and other resources and I think we've been doing that in the best interests of all New Zealanders."
Mr Key says Maori haven't caught fish in that particular area for at least a decade.