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Māori water rights case aims to stop export bottlers

A Waitangi Tribunal claimant hopes his High Court case will force the government into a fair process granting Māori customary rights over freshwater so bottling export operations can be shut down.

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In opposition, the Coalition parties promised action on foreign companies bottling and exporting NZ water. Two years on, our reporter Whena Owen reveals the industry is in full flow. Source: Q+A

Waitangi Tribunal claimant Maanu Paul is preparing a case for the High Court to determine whether native title in freshwater exists under New Zealand common law.

A landmark Waitangi Tribunal report in August found Māori have rights over fresh water in New Zealand, and Paul said the tribunal had recommended the case be taken to the High Court.

"In order to progress the process which the Tribunal recommended - that the Crown and Māori sit down and work together - we have to get the government to accept that the decision of the tribunal is the one that they will ride with, and we have to get them to accept that the highest court in the land - the Supreme Court ruling - stands."

"When we're successful in the High Court it takes the status of the recommendation from the tribunal - from one of recommendatory only - to one of a mandatory position, and that's the difference we want to see."

The coalition government has maintained a position that no one owns water, but Paul said they planned to challenge that view.

"That is based on the principle view that we have and the evidence that we have to hand at the moment, which says that there is no law that has extinguished Māori customary rights to water.

"The test case will be 'do Māori still have customary rights to their water' and the answer to that as far as we are concerned is yes, because there is no law - we can't find a law - that has extinguished those rights."

"We would ask the High Court to direct the Crown to sit down and negotiate with us a process of creating laws that would make the water commission, laws that would give a five-year sunset clause for all those with permits now to no longer have those permits.

"The government, like any other citizen, has to obey the law."

He said the government had not yet approached them about the matter.

"When they come to talk to us I'm sure we can come to an amicable process that will be fair, that'll stop these Chinese water bottlers ripping off our water ... in five year's time that'll be the end of it."

He said the model being used as a basis was the recognition of Māori customary fisheries rights under the Treaty of Waitangi under a 1992 Deed of Settlement.

"When we made the claim for fish, the racists in this country had a field day ... in the end the government gave us about 20 percent of the fishing quota and cash of $150 million to get us into the industry, today we own about 75 percent of the fishing industry."

"The question every citizen has to ask: is anybody upset by the way the fish is being caught today and about the way that Māori are controlling the fish? You never hear a word, everybody's happy, they're getting their fish every Friday night, no problem.

"All the fears they had of Māori ruining the industry or taking it over and selling it off to overseas interests and all that sort of thing, that has all come to nought. This country has got to learn to trust Māori."

rnz.co.nz