The Maori Council is urging the Prime Minister to accept a Waitangi Tribunal ruling on asset sales or "he will buy himself a fight with Maori".
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.
The council says several other Tribunal reports on previous
claims show the Crown has breached Treaty principles by ignoring
its findings in relation to some rivers, springs and
It is warning John Key he will be seriously undermining his Government's credibility if he ignores any recommendation it makes on the on this issue.
But John Key is standing firm. Key told TV ONE's Breakfast earlier this week that the Government does not believe anybody owns water and a Waitangi Tribunal ruling is "not binding on the Government".
"So we could choose to ignore whatever findings they might have. I am not saying that we would but we could."
Iwi leaders are gathering for a third day at the tribunal hearing in Lower Hutt. But it is not clear when it will finish or bring out a report.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples told ONE News yesterday that Key had "abused his privilege".
"He has a responsibility - it's a statutory body - to look into concerns between Maori and the Crown. And he has the responsibility to consider their findings in good faith, so I think he's quite out of order," Sharples said.
In a joint statement, Sharples and fellow co-leader Tariana
Turia said they were "bitterly disappointed" by Key's
"We view very seriously the comments made by the Prime Minister that "we could choose to ignore what findings they might have'. To make such comments is an insult to all of us," the co-leaders said.
"We believe that the Government is required in good faith to
consider the recommendations of the Tribunal.
"We are also disappointed in what appears to be the unilateral rejection that Maori do not have ownership rights to freshwater.
"We will not tolerate any suggestion that the mana of the Tribunal can be undermined. This is a specialist body, with members appointed by the Governor-General and chosen carefully for their knowledge and expertise".
ONE News political editor Corin Dann said last night that Key had a "very tricky line to walk" now.
"Other Governments in the past have disregarded Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal recommendations. Nonetheless, this is a very sensitive area. There's a lot of negotiations going on with other groups," Dann said.
"Some would feel that perhaps the Maori Party is also playing to its political audience. It certainly feels there is a lot of anger out in the community about this."
After a fiery two-hour debate, MPs voted 61 to 60 in favour of partial asset sales legislation after a third and final reading in Parliament last month.
The passing of the legislation mandates a 49% Government sell down of Mighty River Power, which is expected to be offered up for sale before the end of September.
A minority shareholding in Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, and coal-miner Solid Energy is also planned to be offered.