Senior figures within Maoridom are welcoming the Government's pledge not to legislate against Maori rights and interests in water - hailing a significant step forward in the ownership debate.
Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key and senior government figures met with the Maori party at the Beehive for an hour-and-a-half.
In a joint-statement, a pledge was made that the Government
would "continue to support a process of negotiation between hapu
and iwi and the Government on their rights and interests in water,
and the Government has undertaken not to legislate over those
rights and interests."
The pledge comes as the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on water rights enters its final stages.
"We have never been of the view to legislate over rights and interest and I'm happy to put that in writing and we are not about to legislate over the top of that," Key said in a statement which eased the Maori Party's main concerns.
The pledge has been seen as a big deal by some leading Maori, with Tainui's Tuku Morgan stating that it "provides some guarantee to our people that there will not be legislation like the same way Labour did with the foreshore and seabed".
The Maori Party's role in getting the pledge is earning big plaudits, even from adversaries.
"I applaud what they [the Maori Party] have achieved, I believe they are walking in the footsteps of their talk," said Maori Council co-chairman Maanu Paul.
However, Key did concede that it is possible the Government may have to legislate one day to establish that no one owns water.
"I hope it won't come to that, at the end of the day that's not the preferred option," Key said.
Government accused of backtracking on tribunal agreement
Meanwhile, lawyers for the claimants in the case for the Waitangi Tribunal on water began summing up its final stages this morning.
The Waitangi Tribunal is hearing an urgent case over whether Maori have special rights to fresh water and geothermal assets, and if Maori with Treaty claims will be denied a future stake in the state-owned power companies because of partial asset sales.
Maori Council lawyer Felix Geiringer told the Tribunal the claim was not about having an ownership plaque on the wall.
"People are being forced to lay claim to things that have always been their own. Maori did not separate the water in a river from the river bed or banks.
"Water resources had always been, and still were fundamental, to all cultures. Therefore it was reasonable to expect some sort of water rights would be available to all, Maori ownership "could not mean that anyone in New Zealand has their tap turned off," he said.
However, ONE News Political Editor Corin Dann says the debate has been a little distracted by a Maori Council allegation that the Justice Department has breached an agreement on legal aid.
Council co-chair Maanu Paul claims they had an agreement with the Ministry of Justice over legal aid, but were yesterday told they would only receive a minimum rate which was well below what they had been promised.
"This is a racist institution, trying to get the Maori Council to conform," he said.
However, the Justice Department says the Maori Council has filed inaccurate and incomplete invoices and that is causing delays in payments.
The Justice Department says that all up the hearing has been set up with $850,000 in legal aid.
Lawyers for the claimants continued their summing up at Waiwhetu
Marae in Lower Hutt today with the Crown due to begin its summing
up tomorrow morning.