The Waitangi Tribunal decision

Kate Chapman at Stuff reports:

The Government is under pressure to allocate Maori shares in the part-float of state-owned companies to keep its assets sales on track.

But a delay seems inevitable after the announced yesterday that Maori have proprietary rights in water and said the partial sale of state-owned energy companies should be put on hold to protect their interests.

Going ahead with the part-float of Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy and Meridian Energy without allowing for Maori rights would be in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi, it said.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government would consider the findings in good faith and respond after taking advice from officials and Crown lawyers.

“We’ll go through the merits of the argument and in the fullness of time we’ll come back with a response.” He has also promised to discuss the Government’s response with the Maori Party before making it public.

There’s two issues here. In my view the Tribunal has one issue right and one totally wrong.

There is little dispute that Iwi have some rights when it comes to water in certain areas. This has been recognised in settlements made by the Crown, and in fact the Government has been negotiating with the Iwi Leaders Forum on these rights for some time. The extent and nature of the rights is not clear cut (hence the negotiations) but no Government has ever said there are no rights.

Where the Tribunal has it wrong is saying that the partial sales should not proceed, as it may limit the ability of the Crown to settle such rights. With all respect (in fact little respect), this is nonsense. The Crown is the the Crown.  Parliament can pass a law on pretty much anything – as it does with other settlements. The Crown can allocate money for a settlement.

And in this particular case, the mixed ownership model arguably makes it considerably easier to settle any claims over water rights. You can simply buy some shares on the NZX and use them in a settlement. You can’t do that if they remain an SOE.

There is no barrier to settling any claims, by implementing the Mixed Ownership Model.

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