No backdown over SOE sales law - Key

22:51, Feb 23 2012

Prime Minister John Key has denied the Government has backed down over keeping Treaty protection clauses in new laws allowing the sale of state-owned energy companies, saying it is on track to reach an "elegant solution".

The Maori Party is claiming victory after Finance Minister Bill English yesterday suggested the Government would include a provision in new legislation "reflecting the concepts" of Section 9.

Section 9 of the State-Owned Enterprises Act requires the Crown to act in a manner consistent with the principles of the Treaty and the Maori Party threatened to walk away from its coalition deal with National if the Government did not transfer it across to the new legislation.

Key said he had always believed the Government would find an "elegant solution" to the controversy sparked by Treasury's view there was no need for Section 9 in the new law.

"I took a different view to that and consulted Maori. We're making good progress."

Not everyone would agree with the Government.

"Some Maori feel there should be absolutely no changes at all. In our view there should be a position that spells out what obligations lie with the crown to the shareholder and what lie on the individual private shareholders."

The Government had not backed down, Key said.

"There is a section 9 or words to that equivalent that will give confidence to Maori that the Crown tends to honour its obligations when it comes to the treaty but I think there are also issues spelling out the privacy to shareholders aren't bound by that."

Finance Minister Bill English said Cabinet was yet to decide the exact details of the new legislation and a final decision would be made in the next few weeks.

"But in the interests of working towards a satisfactory solution we've indicated to the Waitangi Tribunal and the iwi leaders group the direction of our thinking."

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the fight was not over but the party was "cautiously optimistic" about the Government's plans.

Other issues around water and natural resources still had to be adequately addressed, she said.

English said the partial sale of state-owned enterprises would not prejudice iwi rights or interests in water which would be dealt with through a separate process.

The Government held 10 consultation hui with Maori around the country and the overwhelming message was that people wanted Section 9 retained, and even strengthened.

English yesterday gave a speech starting the campaign of warming New Zealanders to the idea of selling up to 49 per cent of Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy and selling down the Government's stake in Air New Zealand.

Recent polls have shown that despite National's general election win in November, the majority of people are opposed to asset sales.

English said opponents should come up with another way to find the $5 billion to $7 billion the partial float would raise.

"We would rather pay dividends to New Zealanders on shares they own in the energy companies than pay interest to overseas lenders on more borrowing."