Prime minister knows exactly what's at stake

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 07:20 11/07/2012

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OPINION: If you believe Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, Prime Minister John Key was just having a bad day when he raised the stakes in the row over water rights with Maori.

Anyone who's been a student of Mr Key for very long knows just how unlikely that sounds.

In the same way that former prime minister Helen Clark's labelling of foreshore and seabed activists as "haters and wreckers" was deliberate, Mr Key deliberately inflamed the dispute over water rights because the alternative - allowing the perception that water is a Treaty right - risks a backlash from heartland National voters equal to the fury over the foreshore and seabed.

Looming just as large in the Government's mind is the potential damage to the asset sales programme, on which it has pinned its economic credentials to the mast.

With the likes of Mana Party leader Hone Harawira warning that selling shares in the state- owned power companies is like flogging off a car without the ownership papers, any equivocation by Mr Key would only spook potential investors and potentially derail the asset sales timetable.

The Maori Party, meanwhile, is caught in the crossfire. Its relationship with National has surprised many by its endurance but the Treaty is its line in the sand. It has been left in no doubt that emotions are running high over Mr Key's comments.

Dr Sharples was yesterday prepared to give Mr Key the benefit of the doubt, suggesting the prime minister had only lashed out under pressure.

But Mr Key has too much to lose to accept the olive branch.

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