Delay to SOE sale looms as court date set

JOHN HARTEVELT AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 08:22 24/10/2012

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Prime Minister John Key should be held accountable for the "selfish and short-sighted manner" in which the Government has pursued partial asset sales, Mana Party leader Hone Harawira says.

The Government's plan to sell down up to 49 per cent of its share in four energy companies took another hit yesterday after the High Court set an interim date of November 26 to hear a challenge by the Maori Council and Waikato River hapu Pouakani to the sale of shares in Mighty River Power.

The Mighty River Power (MRP) sell-down had originally been planned to have been carried out by now but was pushed in to the second quarter of next year under the threat of legal action.

The Maori Council yesterday went to court, securing an interim date for a hearing and a concession from the Government that it would put off an earlier plan to remove MRP from the State Owned Enterprises (SOE) Act this week.

Harawira congratulated the Maori Council "for putting another snag in the Government's plan".

The council deserved thanks from all New Zealanders for their efforts to seek formal clarification of Maori rights to water, he said.

The Crown would "most likely lose" the court battle, Harawira said.

"[Key] refused to consult widely with Maori, he's the one who refused to engage with Council, and he's the one who should be held accountable for the selfish and short-sighted manner in which he has tried to ram through his asset sales plan in spite of widespread opposition from both Maori and non-Maori right throughout the country."

Key maintained the Government felt it was right and that the sale of MRP remained on track.

However, he warned of the potential for a protracted legal battle that could go to the Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court.

"The courts have a history of understanding the timetable of the Government and recognising that there's some urgency around these issues," Key said.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said Key was leading a "very profligate government pursuing an ideological agenda at the expense of taxpayers."

"We think the Government has spent at least $17m so far and I think they've probably spent more than that. They're planning to spend a couple of hundred million at least and it is tax-payers and consumers who will pay."

Labour spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the latest delay underlined that the asset sales programme had become a shambles.

"What we are down to now is this Government trying to protect the PM's pride . . . whether it makes sense or not.

"They have lost a year, they are not going to get it off the first step till March or April and we have a referendum in full steam ahead," he said.

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Meanwhile, the Maori Council has indicated the case could cost $500,000. It has raised about half.

Key said he did not believe that it met the criteria for legal aid, but he was not the one who decided.

- The Dominion Post

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