National leader Judith Collins has sung Ngāi Tahu's praise after the South Island iwi "corrected" her and confirmed it did not want co-ownership of water.
Collins told National supporters over the weekend she'd been leaked a Department of Internal Affairs proposal to transfer 50 percent of publicly-owned water assets in the South Island to Ngāi Tahu ownership.
Ngāi Tahu quickly responded by confirming it is "not proposing ownership" of water assets in the South Island but is exploring co-governance responsibilities with local councils, to prevent future governments from privatising water assets.
Collins stood by her claims, because in the document she was leaked, a diagram titled 'Joint governance model - Ngāi Tahu Takiwa', it states in the recommendations: "Owners are the Canterbury councils and Ngāi Tahu."
But Ngāi Tahu said the diagram showed one option proposed by independent consultants that was not pursued by the iwi.
"If Judith Collins had bothered to ask Ngāi Tahu about this proposal, instead of seeking headlines, she would have had the correct facts sooner," said Dr Te Maire Tau, chair of Te Kura Taka Pini, the Ngāi Tahu freshwater group.
Collins brushed off Ngai Tahu's criticism on Tuesday, responding by singing the iwi's praise for not seeking co-ownership of water assets.
"I notice that Ngāi Tahu came out and said that they never asked for co-ownership of water. Well I just think that that shows Ngāi Tahu is far more connected to the feelings of most New Zealanders than the Government is," she said.
"I thought it was very telling that Ngāi Tahu said that they did not ask for co-ownership of all the water but that was clearly what the Government was offering.
"I thought that they had their press release out very early and I think too that I've always had good relations with Ngāi Tahu, as I have with most New Zealanders."
Collins said at the weekend several South Island mayors were concerned about the document, which was presented to 23 of them at a hui regarding the Government's plans to hand over responsibility for 'three waters' - drinking water, wastewater and storm water - to new mega-regional entities.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan have spoken out against Collins for suggesting Ngāi Tahu ownership of water assets. Hawkins accused Collins of creating "fear and division".
But Collins says other mayors back her claims.
"We're not going to go down that path because quite frankly I think it's very clear we've also had discussions with some chief executives and other mayors and they absolutely stand by that document."
Collins has been calling for a "national conversation" about Māori co-governance, after being leaked a copy of He Puapua, a Government report commissioned in 2019 that sets out a roadmap to co-governance between the Crown and Māori by 2040.
Paradoxically, the report was commissioned as a response to former Prime Minister John Key - Collins' old boss - signing New Zealand up in 2010 to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Collins has opposed plans for a Māori Health Authority and Māori wards in local councils, and last week raised concerns about a document she was leaked proposing the transfer of Department of Conservation land to Māori.
Collins has insisted she's acting on behalf of all New Zealanders, who she says deserve to know the Government's entire 'co-governance' plans.
But it appears the country isn't behind her.
The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll showed 44.5 percent of New Zealanders think National is being divisive, including one in five National voters - 23.5 percent.
Collins' personal popularity has also slipped, with just 5.6 percent, down 12.8 points - preferring her as Prime Minister. Her rating is even less than her predecessor Sir John Key on 6.7 percent - and he's not even a politician.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said on Tuesday Collins has been pushing a "racist narrative", echoing the Māori Party last week who accused the National leader of using "racist rhetoric" in Parliament.
"It's completely unacceptable to continue the racist narrative that people like Judith Collins continues to push and we'll be taking that debate up because it's not acceptable," Davidson said.
"I'm really pleased to see indications that people are like 'no, that's old thinking' and I think people are realising that using Māori communities and people as a political football, is also what is not acceptable and I'm really pleased to see the country has moved on."
Collins said it's the role of Opposition to ask questions.
"It is part of the Opposition's role to hold the Government to account. I would have thought these were reasonable questions."