Nats hurry to keep asset sales on track
KATE CHAPMAN AND TRACY WATKINS
The Government is fast tracking its response to a landmark Waitangi Tribunal ruling on Maori water rights and says it could still meet its self-imposed deadline of putting shares in the first state-owned energy company on the market by Christmas.
After a weekend mulling over the tribunal's call for a delay in the asset-sales programme, Prime Minister John Key said he would announce the Government's next move on Monday.
That would allow time for the Government to press ahead with a float of Mighty River - even allowing for legal action - after taking advice from Crown lawyers and officials.
The tribunal found that Maori have proprietary rights in water and that failing to accommodate that would be a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Ngati Rangi leader Toni Waho said yesterday that shares in the state-owned energy companies should be put aside to compensate Maori before proceeding with partial privatisation plans.
Ngati Rangi is one of the iwi involved in the Maori Council-led claim to the tribunal on Maori water and geothermal rights.
Mr Waho said that shares could be put aside for Maori to access later.
"There's the fisheries example, there's the Crown Forest Rental Trust example, where Maori assets derived from a Crown or public asset base are parcelled up and packaged and held while things get sorted out, which is why I think the asset sales are not necessarily going to be held up."
Yesterday, Mr Key yesterday refused to rule in or out any options - including giving iwi preferential access to shares.
That is in contrast to his stance on the campaign trail in 2011, when he specifically ruled out such a deal.
In the week before the last election, Mr Key said all New Zealanders had to be treated "equally and fairly" in the sale of shares of state-owned assets.
National campaigned on selling up to 49 per cent in the five state-owned energy companies and letting go more Air New Zealand shares.
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples yesterday suggested the Government was considering advice on a "shares plus" deal for iwi - an arrangement that would see iwi get a say over the running of water assets, as well as priority shares.
Claimants to the Waitangi Tribunal have said shares in state-owned energy companies are not enough to settle their water rights.
Mr Key said it was not appropriate for him to discuss individual recommendations in the report until he had considered the advice of lawyers and officials.
But he reiterated the Government's view that no-one owns the water, while recognising that Maori had genuine rights and interests.
The Government's preferred option, however, was to recognise those rights and interests by negotiating "river by river, waterway by waterway, iwi by iwi", he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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