Tribunal statement spells trouble for asset sale plans

19:41, Jul 30 2012

The Government's asset sales plans, for this year at least, are in trouble with a capital T. That's T for timing, T for tribunal, T for Treaty and T for title.

State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall's first reaction yesterday was a cautious press statement.

Not wanting to trample on the mana of the Waitangi Tribunal, or the Government's deal with the Maori Party, he signalled they would listen to officials and make decisions in due course.

Nor was the direction of the tribunal's (very interim) direction any great surprise.

But look at the underlying arguments the (non-binding) tribunal puts forward, and the news is all bad.

It points to parallel questions over water as were raised in the Ngati Apa case that kicked off the whole foreshore and seabed furore; the extent of pre-existing Maori rights and interests in water and the need to examine these rights and their status.


It refers to the findings by courts in Australia and the United States that customary title in water bodies can exist; note the word "title", not Prime Minister John Key's preferred "rights and interests" or the "ownership" that he has ruled out.

And finally it concludes it is "not implausible" that where the Crown alters the nature of the shareholding in a body using freshwater resources it is arguable this may alter its ability, either legally or practically, to recognise or remedy any breach involving a proven Treaty right in that water.

That is not just a warning shot about the current tribunal considerations, that is a map for a much larger campaign.

The tribunal was diplomatic enough to suggest that if the Crown would just taihoa - and wait until its planned September stage one report - then the sale of Mighty River Power may not be delayed at all past the final practical date this year; the first week in December.

But as Christmas approaches "mum and dad" investors will have other priorities for their money.

The Mighty River sale is suddenly looking mighty unlikely this year, especially if the Maori Council decides to cut to the chase, tuck the tribunal's musings under its arm and head straight for the court.

The Dominion Post