Double setbacks for asset sales programme
By Patrick Gower
The Government's asset sales programme has been hit on two fronts today, thanks to the Maori Council's urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing aimed at stopping the sell-off until issues around Maori ownership of water are decided.
First, a high-profile investment adviser agreed there is enough doubt about the rights to water to make prospective investors think twice about buying.
Then, National's support partner, the Maori Party, fired up at Prime Minister John Key's indication that the Tribunal could just be ignored anyway.
The war of words raged on, directed at John Key for saying the Tribunal isn't binding and could simply be ignored and won't stop asset sales.
“I think he should just shut up,” says Maori activist Titewhai Harawira.
And the Harawira family had a warning for potential mum and dad investors too.
This fight by Maori for water rights will be in the courts for years, so buyers beware, says Mana Party leader Hone Harawira.
“It is like trying to buy a car without the ownership papers,” says Mr Harawira. “That's what it is. John Key is trying to sell a car, but he doesn't have the ownership papers.”
The Harawira view has support from investment expert Gareth Morgan.
The power companies for sale rely on water, and he says the rights to that are in too much doubt.
“Unless you are getting this for a bargain basement price, which in the taxpayers’ case they are not going to sell it, or if there's no resolution, I tend to agree with Hone,” says Mr Morgan.
“Everyone needs to make their own decision, but obviously the Government's preference would be that these issues would be cleared up prior to the 49 percent of shares being taken to the market,” says John Key.
But resolution might not come that easy.
Maori Council co-chair and retired High Court judge Eddie Durie has already said it will go the courts if the Government ignores it.
That could mean an injunction by the Maori Council. There's an injunction threat from elements within Tuwharetoa – the Pouakani case about riverbed ownership, the Whanganui River Treaty claim to be settled and the Maori Party calling on iwi and hapu to make riverbed and water claims.
“It’s a dog's breakfast really isn't it?” says Gareth Morgan.
But the Prime Minister pushes on, reiterating to Rachel Smalley on Firstline this morning that the Government is prepared to ignore the Tribunal.
Those comments are now causing big problems, with Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples hitting out tonight, calling it an "insult to all Maori".