The government released its water policy last month, see HERE. It avoids dealing with the question of ownership, instead focusing first on cleaning up rivers, and then looking into the more difficult issue of water allocation.
Government Cabinet documents released alongside the water policy plans warn water allocation is "not straightforward". And "Many of these issues cannot be resolved without substantial discussion with Māori”.
The current Government's position is that no one owns freshwater, and it belongs to everyone. Almost the same position - that no one owns water - was taken by the previous Government.
The Government’s supply and confidence partner, the Green Party, does not agree. They have warned they will be continuing to push for Māori to have rangatira and kaitiaki rights over water, saying this is a key area that needs strengthening. “Protecting the environment and recognising Māori rights go hand-in-hand” states Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson, in a recent letter to supporters.
Other Māori are also saying they are entitled to ownership of water - including the right to restrict others' use, and to compensation for unpaid royalties. Darrell Naden, of Tamaki Legal, said Māori should seek to protect rights over the resource, and that's likely to happen through the courts.
"We think we'll end up in court. Based on current case law, we think we'll prevail," Mr Naden is reported as saying. He also said acknowledging Māori rights could mean compensation for unpaid royalties and Māori governance over water use and discharges. He told his clients, it's less about direct monetary gain and more about having governance over the resource. See Newshub interview with Naden HERE.