Iwi, Maori Council to fight SOE decision

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012

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Waikato River iwi and the Maori Council will appeal against a High Court decision rejecting their bid to block state asset sales until water rights are resolved.

It may go straight to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeal, and is likely to be heard early next year. If it fails it will clear the way for the sale of up to 49 per cent of Mighty River Power - the first of four energy companies to be partially sold.

In his ruling yesterday, High Court judge Ronald Young found against the Maori Council and the Waikato iwi on all points.

The only consolation to the Maori groups was his recognition of the frustration of iwi and hapu at not being able to negotiate with the Crown to resolve claims to proprietary interests in water.

"I urge those who have the authority to urgently address these claims," he said.

Waikato River and Dams Claims Trust & Pouakani Claims Trust spokesman Tamati Cairns said he supported that finding "but on everything else we will be appealing to the upper courts".

He said Justice Young's decision held no surprises.

The New Zealand Maori Council yesterday also said it was working on an appeal.

Lawyer for the groups Donna Hall said a decision on whether to go direct to the Supreme Court depended on the Crown's timetable.

It was always preferable for an appellant to go through all stages of appeal, but if the shares were to be floated in March, as indicated, there may only be time for one appeal.

In his ruling Justice Young said he was satisfied the three proposed decisions of the Crown were based on Parliament's decision and were therefore not reviewable by the courts.

The Maori groups argued they were made by ministers, so were open to judicial review.

The three decisions were to move Mighty River Power out of the SOE Act, amend the constitution of the power generator/retailer and sell the shares.

Justice Young said if he was wrong on the question of the court's jurisdiction, all the particular grounds for review also failed.

He found that the Crown would not be acting inconsistently with the principles of the Treaty and there was no connection between the sale of shares and the need to provide for Maori claims to proprietary rights in water. He also found the decisions were not based on the proposition that "at common law no-one owned the water".

The claimants had argued Prime Minister John Key's statement about the common law was linked to the Government's decision to sell.

He also found that the Crown was not obliged to allow the Waitangi Tribunal process, looking into the water claim, to be finished.

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Finance Minister Bill English welcomed the ruling.

"The Government is firmly of the view that the partial sale of shares does not in any way affect the Crown's ability to recognise rights and interests in water, or to provide redress for genuine Treaty claims."

State-owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said the Government remained committed to an initial public offering of Mighty River Power shares in the first half of 2013.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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