Supreme Court questions whether Crown is true owner of NZ rivers

By Harata Brown

The Supreme Court may not have ruled in favour of the Pouakani claimants group instead it may have provided them with something better to support Māori and their water rights.

The decision questions whether the Crown is the true owner of our NZ rivers.

The hapū claimant group who have interests in Te Pouakani lands on the Waikato River banks appealed the decision over the ownership of part of the river.  They argued that if the Crown acquired ownership of the river bed right up to half-way, then they have a fiduciary duty to Māori.

However, the Court found that the common law rule is not the universal law of NZ and that the ownership of the river remains to be determined before the courts.  The Pouakani claimant's spokesman says that the decision opens the door for Māori to reclaim ownership over their rivers.

The Solicitor for the NZ Māori Council says the decision will assist them as they prepare for Stage 2 of the Waitangi Tribunal claim over Māori proprietary interests in water.

However lawyer Donna Hall says that iwi now must seriously consider their proprietary interests in water if they are negotiating some form of settlement with the Crown, and how this fits in the Govt's future water policies.