A Waitangi Tribunal report calling for greater recognition of Māori ownership rights of freshwater has been welcomed by Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki.
- Crown lawyers at Waitangi Tribunal say Māori have water rights
- Water: The debate between ownership and rights
While the report suggests Māori should have rights to a percentage of water allocations, Tukaki said fears that the average ratepayer could bear the cost of any changes are jumping the gun.
"The Waitangi Tribunal recommendations spend a whole lot of time honing on things before we get to that conversation," he told Newshub Nation.
"I think this is a bit of a non-event - we're getting wrapped up in the endgame before trying to understand how we arrive at a point that has all parties engaged and all parties agreeing to something."
Tukaki says the only certainty is that the current situation is untenable.
"Let's be honest here - how things have been working over the last couple of decades, across successive Governments, both blue and red, has not been working, and that gets to the point about how the resource is being managed, as opposed to how the resource might be owned."
Tukaki hit back hard at claims that stronger ownership of water represented any form of "money-grab" by Māori.
"So when has there been a money-grab for Māori, with the exception of legitimate Treaty settlements related to land? So, I would for somebody to tell me exactly where all these billions of dollars have somehow magically been squirrelled away out of claims like this.
"Let's not forget that we have had more than 100-plus Waitangi Tribunal reports and recommendations over the years that many governments have not even responded to."
While meaningful law changes could be years away, Tukaaki says he thinks there will be a workable model for water ownership that benefits not only Māori, but average consumers and the environment.
"I think this is more about also having a conversation about how we can produce something that is more efficient, therefore delivered to the end consumer in a much more meaningful way, but at the same time, in the middle ground here is a need to clean up our waterways."
Environment Minister David Parker has said while he takes the tribunals findings "seriously", that doesn't mean Government agrees with all recommendations.
But according to Tukaki, the time to act is now.
"We can clean up our waterways, and if we don't do it, well, who's going to do it? Our kids are going to hate us if we don't take action on this."