Public pressure over New Zealand water being sold overseas has forced the Government to act, Prime Minister Bill English confirming officials are now investigating possible charges on water exports.
Companies bottling and exporting water, for little cost, is hard for the public to swallow and a big political headache for National.
So the Government has today written to its technical experts on water, asking them to investigate specifically whether there's a pricing solution on water exports.
"We do accept there's growing public concern about it. That's why we want to refer it off to this group. to look at what if any reasonable options there are," Mr English said.
But he insists there's no quick easy answer.
"We're not saying it's too hard. We're just saying it's hard, 'cause it's a big shift for New Zealand to say we are actually going to put a price on water, because water's been free and has not been owned by anybody."
Labour's water spokesperson, David Parker, disagrees.
"You could do it really quickly. We already charge royalties on oil, on gas, on coal, even when gravel is extracted. You just apply, extend that principle to water. The exact level of the royalty will be set by Treasury," he said.
One of the biggest barriers to charging for the commercial use of water has been the issue of who owns water and whether a commercial price would spark Treaty claims.
But the Maori Council says it would support a charge on the commercial use of water, as long as Maori got a share of the royalties.
"We are saying not who owns water but who has an interest in water. And we are claiming that Maori people do have an interest in the water but we certainly don't say it's an exclusive interest," said Eddie Durie, Maori Council chair.
Farming also has an interest in any commercial charge on water.
"It's not the smartest of ideas at the moment but I do admire that the Government are going through the technical advisory group and getting a bit of good robust advice on it. But I hope it doesn't go any further than that," said Chris Allen of Federated Farmers.
So don't expect any answers, technical or otherwise, on water charges before the election, says 1 NEWS political editor Corin Dann.
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