Opposition parties are reiterating their call for the Government to hold a referendum on its controversial asset sales programme, saying the delay of the Mighty River Power share float gives enough time to consult the entire country, as well as Maori.
Maori water claimants will meet today to decide whether they will take court action after the Government yesterday pushed out the first partial sale of four state-owned energy companies from November until a four-month period between March and June next year.
It followed a Waitangi Tribunal report calling for the sales to be delayed until a mechanism could be established to compensate iwi who have freshwater claims in the companies' catchment areas. The Tribunal says the Government will be breaching the Treaty of Waitangi if it goes ahead sooner.
Prime Minister John Key yesterday announced the Government will spend five weeks consulting with iwi.
A coalition of Opposition parties, the Council of Trade Unions, Grey Power and the Association of Student Unions have been collecting signatures to force a non-binding citizens' initiated referendum on asset sales. They have about 250,000 and need another 100,000.
Labour leader David Shearer today said the coalition was going "all out" and would reach its target in the next six weeks.
The Government has to hold a referendum within 12 months of signatures being lodged but Shearer said there would be a moral obligation to hold it sooner.
"It's listening to the rights of Maori and it should listen to the rights of all New Zealanders."
Key has repeatedly said last year's election, which saw National returned with a larger majority, was effectively a referendum on asset sales.
However, Greens co-leader Russel Norman said the Government should drop its programme altogether.
"It has descended into crisis as costs rack up, companies are found unready for sale, the Waitangi Tribunal confirms iwi rights to water, and poll after poll shows that New Zealanders want to keep their assets.
"It is clear that National is only delaying the sale because its plan is unravelling so badly."
Mana party leader Hone Harawira said the Government's backdown after Key's earlier disparaging comments that the Government could ignore the Tribunal was a victory for Maori.
Harawira claimed investment brokers were now advising against buying shares because of the lack of clarity around water rights.
Shearer said the uncertainty over the sales would push the share price for the assets down. "We end up giving these shares away when these are some of our best performing assets."
Cabinet yesterday rejected most of the Tribunal's recommendations, which included a national hui and pan-Maori water settlement, and a "shares-plus" deal for iwi claimants. The shares plus concept would give iwi shareholders the right of veto over management decisions.
The Government also rejected the Tribunal's call for a national water settlement.
Key emphasised yesterday the consultation period was unlikely to change the Government's position, but was required to strengthen the Government's legal position.
The delay in the float of Might River Power would cost the Government $5 million to $10 million.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should Christchurch council partially sell assets to pay for 'nice to haves' in the rebuild?Related story: Asset sales could help pay for rebuild - Key