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Investors should not fear water rights dispute - Key

Published: 6:12PM Thursday July 12, 2012 Source: ONE News

Prime Minister John Key says investors should not be worried by discussions over who owns New Zealand's water.

The Waitangi Tribunal is hearing an urgent case over whether Maori have special rights to fresh water and geothermal assets, and whether Maori with Treaty claims will be denied a future stake in the state-owned power companies because of partial asset sales.

Experts are saying the uncertainty around the issue may scare off potential investors when shares in the state owned assets are put up for sale.

But Key said today he does not believe there is cause for concern.

"I think the Government's position will be upheld, and that is that no one owns water," he said.

"I'm the Government's major spokesperson and I need to spell out the Government's position, and the Government's long held, and very strongly held, view is that nobody owns water."

However, constitutional expert Mai Chen told ONE News that investors should be cautious.

"Politically this is really hard but there will have to be some accommodation of some sort, Maori feel too strongly about this," she said.

"If we're going to spend millions of taxpayer dollars having a constitutional watchdog or forum like this where Maori can go and air their grievances then it's important that the Government doesn't go and pre-determine the outcome."

The Tribunal hearing is in its fourth day. The Maori Council argues it has water rights, and is trying to slow down the asset sales process.

Economist Ganesh Nana, who has been working with the Green party, told the hearing today that the dispute will have an effect on share prices.

"Uncertainty is a significant factor in market conditions," he said.

"I think the Government would be remiss in not considering the amount of uncertainty when it decides to sell."

Key has said he may ignore the findings of the tribunal, a stance that has upset his coalition partners the Maori Party.

A face to face meeting has been scheduled for the middle of next week to talk about the future of their support arrangement.

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