27 Feb 2013

Maori water claimants lose Supreme Court appeal

7:12 pm on 27 February 2013

Maori claimants to water rights have lost a legal challenge to stop the Government going ahead with the partial privatisation of some state-owned assets - including hydro power generators.

They argued changes in ownership would be in breach of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi unless proper protective measures were first put in place to ensure the Crown kept the ability to meet its Treaty obligations.

But the Supreme Court on Wednesday concluded that selling shares in the energy firms - starting with Mighty River Power - will not impair the Crown's ability to resolve any Treaty breach over Maori interests in water.

The Maori Council and the Waikato hapu Pouakani took an appeal to the Supreme Court following a High Court case and a Waitangi Tribunal hearing.

In an interim decision, the Tribunal suggested Maori interests in water should be sorted out before plans to sell up to 49% of shares in selected power stations went ahead - a recommendation the Government chose not to follow.

There have, however, been a couple of wins for the claimants.

The Supreme Court says the Crown has a duty to comply with the principles of the Treaty, contrary to the Crown contention that compliance with the Treaty didn't apply to share sales.

The claimants have also been told that because of that small win, they don't have to pay court costs - meaning they only have to foot the bill for their own lawyers.