Ex-MP backs new deadline for tribunal

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012

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A leading public lawyer and former MP, Stephen Franks, says he is "heartened" by threats from the Crown to push ahead with asset sales this year.

Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprise Minister Tony Ryall yesterday called for the Waitangi Tribunal to provide recommendations and reas oning on its inquiry into fresh water and geothermal resources by August 24.

The tribunal believed it had until the end of September to issue a final report before it threatened to delay the planned partial float of Mighty River Power.

However, the Government said it needed to make decisions by the start of September or the sales would not take place until next year, delaying the entire mixed ownership model programme.

Franks, a former ACT party MP, said the Maori Council, which brought the Waitangi Tribunal claim, was clearly engaged in a tactical process to gain shares in Mighty River, and the Government had responded by stepping up its game.

"It looks as if it's a tactic in a game that so far the Crown hasn't been playing strong hands in, telling the other side that they're not cowed by it, and they'll allow the appropriate process to happen but they won't necessarily change course."

The Government statement said it would make decisions on the Mighty River sale on the basis of information before it, which was seen as a threat to go ahead with the sale regardless of whether the Waitangi Tribunal had issued its report.

Franks said the Crown was sending a message to the Maori Council that "we won't allow the timetable to drive the outcome, and if you think you can push it out until we get desperate, then that's not going to work".

Alternatively, it was "just conceivable" the Government was positioning itself to pull the plug on the mixed ownership model.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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