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Supreme Court Decision on Maori Water Rights


29 AUGUST 2014

Supreme Court Decision on Maori Water Rights

Donna Hall, solicitor for the New Zealand Maori Council, and the Waikato River and Dams Trust said:

“ … the Supreme Court refused to give Pouakani people what they asked for, but may have given them something much, much better instead. The Appellants had argued that the Crown’s ownership of the River was as a fiduciary for the benefit of Maori. Instead, the Supreme Court has questioned whether the Crown owns the River at all.”

The timing of the decision will assist the New Zealand Maori Council before the Waitangi Tribunal in its claim over Maori propriety interests in water, stage 2, which is being prepared. It provides significant affirmation of the Tribunal’s decision at stage 1. The Crown cannot point to English law and assert that no one owns the water. The question isn’t, what was the law of England? The question is what, is the law of New Zealand? In particular, what was the customary position of Maori which the Crown promised to protect?

Today’s Supreme Court decision requires “all Maori to re-look at the way water issues are addressed”, said Ms Hall.

The Tribunal Inquiry process is the appropriate forum in which to debate the major policy issues identified with protection of Maori proprietary rights and protection of the quality of New Zealand’s water resources for everyone.

The Supreme Court’s refocusing of the water debate around the question of ownership has large implications for all Maori. The door to that argument is now open for claimants like Waikato River and Dams Trust to grow through said Ms Hall. This has only come about because of the courage of the Pouakani people to tackle the hard arguments head on.


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