The first of The Hui's Māori electorate debates has delved into the contentious issue of water ownership in New Zealand.
Tāmaki Makaurau candidates Labour MP Peeni Henare, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson and Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere took to the debating stage on Tuesday evening to discuss election issues pertinent to Māori.
The trio were initially asked how they would address Auckland's water shortage, with Tamihere turning the conversation towards water ownership.
"I want to go straight to the issue of ownership. Never has our right, our native, customary title been extinguished to water," he said.
"If Māori had control of water, we wouldn't be running out of it. We're the greatest custodians."
He continued to say that "we [Māori] own it" and he would be the only person out of the trio who would "stand here and say that".
"This whole country is driven off the theft of Māori assets… If we go back to first principles - and that is we be the kaitiakitanga of our water. Wherever the water comes and wherever the water goes, Māori have the interest," he said.
"The day that the Crown monetises it, sends it offshore or gives others the mana of our water to monetise it, they're stealing our assets and our property."
Henare wouldn't explicitly say that Māori own water, instead he said they have "special interests" in it.
"We've made our position quite clear that Māori, without a shadow of a doubt, have special interests in the water. It is a very complicated scenario," he said.
"If you have a look at the Waikato River, it's legislated that way. It's the same as the Wanganui River. And Māori, as it has already been pointed out, are custodians there, so we're already there."
He added there's a job across New Zealand to ensure that "water sovereignty" is protected, and he reiterated again that Māori have special interests.
Davidson said the Green Party has been clear that Māori "absolutely" have customary proprietary and kaitiaki rights to water.
"That, in effect, is actually ownership. And if that's a Pākeha way of understanding rights over water then that's what we have to be clear about as well," she said.
Watch their full discussion on water ownership above.