A new wave of prominent Māori leaders has come crashing down on government plans to stop fishing near the Kermadec Islands.
The group of distinguished New Zealanders - including Dame Tariana Turia, Sir Mark Solomon and Sir Tipene O'Regan - held a news conference in Wellington today to express their concerns, and made it clear that they did not support the creation of a massive ocean sanctuary around the islands.
Sir Tipene worked on the Sealord deal in 1992, which gave fishing rights to Māori, and said he was disappointed to have to defend those rights to development, 24 years later.
"To see it tossed out casually on the basis of 'well, no one fishes up there anyhow at the moment,' is really a level of slackness that in Māori terms we just call koretake."
Those speaking at the conference included Te Arawa kaumatua Sir Toby Curtis and treaty advocate Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi.
Former Māori Affairs minister Koro Wetere was video-conferenced in.
They all expressed support for Māori fisheries trust Te Ohu Kaimoana, which filed a case against the sanctuary in the High Court in Wellington last month.
The government has said it will defend the case, adding that Māori have not fished the Kermadecs in the past decade.
But trust chairman Jamie Tuuta said that had more to do with geography and resourcing and did not mean their rights to future development should be stripped from them.
"Because I have got a vacant section in Auckland and I have not developed it yet, it is okay for the government to take that away from me? I do not think so. We are rights holders and those rights need to be acknowledged."
At the moment, marine protection around the Kermadec Islands prohibits trawling and mining.
Sir Tipene said Māori supported that, and other efforts to protect marine biodiversity, but the sanctuary was a step too far and had only come from overseas pressure.
"It is the government of New Zealand dancing to someone else's tune.
"We would like to see them back off and reject the pressure that is being put on them and stand up and stand by the agreements which a previous National government solemnly entered into."
Te Rūnanga-o-Ngāi Tahu chair Sir Mark Solomon said the situation did not say much about the government's relationship with iwi.
"Is this an example of that new age of working together? That Te Ohu Kaimoana gets a notification two hours before the announcement was to be made at the United Nations and that only two iwi were spoken to?"
Former Māori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia said it was about more than just fishing rights.
"This could happen in any issue at all that impacts on our people. I think it is a very significant question and it is one that we should be asking the government... to ensure that those protections are upheld."
Environment Minister Nick Smith said the drive for the sanctuary came from tens of thousands of New Zealanders, including the two local iwi it consulted with.
He said the leaders were overstating the impacts on iwi fisheries and its treaty obligations, and had underestimated the opportunities for economic and scientific gain.
Te Ohu Kaimoana expected to find out in the next fortnight when its case would be heard in court.