Asset sales delay quite likely, says Sharples

Last updated 05:00 07/08/2012

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The Government's asset sales plans look set to go to court after a late-night meeting at the Beehive failed to bring about consensus.

Prime Minister John Key met the Maori Party last night to discuss their response to the Waitangi Tribunal's interim decision on water ownership.

In a move dubbed "unusual and inappropriate" by the tribunal, the Government requested it report back early on whether the sale of state-owned energy companies should be put on hold while Maori water rights were clarified.

A hui of Maori groups in Wellington yesterday afternoon agreed to work together and provide a united front.

A forum consisting of the Maori Council, Iwi Leaders Group and other representatives will be formed. Sir Tumu te Heuheu and Sir Eddie Durie will lead it.

After some debate last night, Mr Key agreed to work with the forum. But there was little other progress made during his meeting with Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples.

Dr Sharples said there was "quite likely" to be a delay in the asset sales programme but the Government was keen on pursuing it.

Maori would be left to go to court if the Government went against tribunal recommendations, he said.

The only guarantee made was that the Government would wait until the August 24 deadline it had imposed on the tribunal to deliver its truncated report before going ahead with the share float of Mighty River Power - the first company to be partially sold.

Mr Key said he was hopeful the Government would be able to incorporate the tribunal's advice into its decision-making but it was "hamstrung" by the market.

"We don't have lots of flexibility and they are literally October-November of this year or March-April of next year."

It would cost "a lot of money" in extra debt servicing if the sale was delayed, he said.

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