The Maori Council is claiming victory after Cabinet halted plans to remove Mighty River Power from the State Owned Enterprises Act.
However, Prime Minister John Key says it is “hardly a victory” as the Government always intended to work through any legal action before 49 percent of the company is floated in March next year.
The Government planned to begin the partial privatisation today by getting Cabinet’s approval followed by an order-in-council by Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae.
But those plans were put on hold after the High Court suggested the issue be debated in front of a judge.
The Maori Council and the Government will return to court in a month’s time for a substantive hearing over who owns the rights to fresh water and geothermal resources.
Cabinet’s back-down is being hailed a victory by the Council’s deputy chair Rahui Katene.
“It means they are holding off on their timetable which they had set down very strongly. But it’s not a full victory because we haven’t had the chance yet to sit down with the Crown,” she says.
Mr Key says the order-in-council wasn’t needed today but was publicised to prompt legal action from the Council.
“We set [the order-in-council] down for today because that is the trigger point that meant if someone was going to take us to court, they had to start acting then or lose the opportunity,” he says.
He says he is confident the judicial review will be over before Mighty River Power is put on the market between March and July next year.
“The courts have a history of understanding the timetable of the Government, recognising there is some urgency around these issues and dealing with that.”
The court hearing is expected to cost the Maori Council more than $400,000, with some of the money raised through iwi trusts.
“It’s a very costly process. We’d love to be able to save that money…But there are a lot of Maori who are very interested in this issue,” she says.
Two judges are expected to preside over the hearing when it begins on November 26.