Newsroom - Water a dangerous flashpoint for National and Labour

Election 2017's debate over water royalties and water pollution could damage both Labour and National, and may prove the deciding factor in who Winston 'Kingmaker' Peters chooses to be the Government. Baz Macdonald reports.

Labour faces the risk of being labelled an arrogant and high taxing Government that repeats its disastrous Foreshore and Seabed errors of the early 2000s. Meanwhile, National could be labelled as an enabler of water-polluting intensification by 'Big Dairy' and a serial procrastinator over dealing with iwi claims on water.

All the while, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants to both tax water bottling exporters and leave existing water allocations unchanged. He is violently opposed to any suggestions of "race based" water allocation or pricing policies, which he has accused both Labour and National of pursuing. Whichever of the two main parties convinces Peters they are the least likely to do deals over water rights with iwi could get the nod and be 'crowned' as the Government.

The issue blew up earlier this month when Labour reiterated a long-held policy of collecting royalties for water, sparking extreme claims from the Government and farmers of a massive tax grab that crossed the rubicon of declaring water could be owned. National has been wary of declaring ownership while it was still negotiating with iwi over water rights and allocation. Labour was forced to outline it only planned royalties of around 2 cents per cubic metre ($500 million per year) and that it would hold a water roundtable in Government that addressed the levels of royalties and how they would be carved up between iwi and and councils.

However, that talk of a summit-style discussion over ownership and royalties led to attacks by both National and the Māori Party. National alleged Labour risked having to re-litigate previous treaty settlements. Meanwhile, the Māori Party accused Labour of arrogance reminiscent of when it imposed the Foreshore and Seabed Act over the protests of its own Māori MPs -- who subsequently broke away in a bitter dispute that led to the formation of the Māori Party.

Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell was quick to reiterate the Waitangi Tribunal's report had "already declared that Māori have proprietary rights" and that Labour's push for royalties before negotiations was putting the cart before the horse.

"Labour just go about it arrogantly and believe ‘We can make a decision without anybody else - this is our policy’," Flavell told Newsroom.

“That is absolutely Foreshore and Seabed stuff, and we know where that ended up,” he said.

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