Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on this week’s arm-wrestling over water rights

August 28th, 2012

When it comes to the Waitangi Tribunal ruling on water rights, Prime Minister John Key appears to be balancing midstream on two different logs that threaten to move further apart over the next few days. While Key is being careful to say all the obligatory things about the Waitangi Tribunal findings – he will consider them in good faith, consult with the Maori Party, meet his moral and legal obligations etc etc – he is simultaneously saying to his Breakfast TV audience that the government plans to proceed full speed ahead on its asset sales programme.

Key is also letting it be known that the Crown aims to take an iwi by iwi, waterway by waterway approach to finding solutions, and a ‘shares plus’ approach to compensation. In other words, the government is entering this round of ‘consultations’ while indicating that it has largely made up its mind on the main points. While the Waitangi Tribunal has been advocating delay in order to enable proper consultation to take place, the government has not (yet) abandoned its plans to get the Mighty River selldown on the rails before Christmas. The Maori Council in particular may not welcome being ‘consulted’ by a Crown that has put a stopwatch on the table.

For that reason, the ‘sale by Christmas’ target is looking a lot more like a negotiating stance than a realistic timetable. There is, after all, no real need for headlong haste. As various institutional investors pointed out to RNZ this morning, there are no sizeable competing share issues due to hit the market between now and March 2013, so a few months’ delay would make no fundamental difference to the process. Similarly, there is little likelihood of any change in the low interest rate climate within the global economy that would be likely to alter the sale price that the Mighty River selldown could hope to achieve.

The risk in delay is all political, and not financial – and on balance, there is a different kind of political risk involved in ramming through an already unpopular policy in the face of well-based Maori demands for significant consultation and a mode of compensation that is arrived at jointly, and not via a unilateral ‘take it or leave it’ process.

All of which suggests that come decision time next week, Key the pragmatist is likely to step up and announce a brief delay to the asset sell-down timetable. Between now and that point though, the government is also likely to play hardball, to see what concessions it can earn – and what further divisions it can hope to open up between the freshwater iwi leaders and the Maori Council. After all, the government is not the only player whose negotiating position is split.


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    1. 7 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on this week’s arm-wrestling over water rights”

    2. By Kat on Aug 28, 2012 | Reply

      I would suggest more of a gamblers approach from Key than anything pragmatic. Key has been cunning enough to talk himself an out at the Tribunals expense. Whatever happens it won’t be his fault. He is gambling on splitting Maori with a divide and rule outcome. Typical National Government modus operandi, though the difference here is they have the silver tongued Key to deliver it all with a smile.

      The only hope for Maori is they remain united and don’t accept the beads and blankets that will be offered.

    3. By mh on Aug 28, 2012 | Reply

      And what hope to the other non-Maori voters who are also opposed to the sell off? And who also claim customary rights thru possession continuity and taxation. When will I receive access and preferential and deferential treatment down at my marae? Am I to be colour coded and have Labour/Act/NZ First represent me only,what about my innate affinity to the land and water? Is this exclusive?

    4. By Timbo on Aug 28, 2012 | Reply

      English has already spent the cash from the sale in his budget i.e. to finance more irrigation for his south island mates

    5. By Joe Blow on Aug 28, 2012 | Reply

      Yip! I heard Key on the radio the other day and he was talking about the Crown’s view on this and the Crown’s view on that, when the Waitangi Tribunal is clear that it prefers the Maori Council’s view…

      All this points to cracks in the coalition with the Maori Party.

      Get ready to RUMBLE!

    6. By clairbear on Aug 29, 2012 | Reply

      I think the Waitangi Tribunal has spent so long dissecting the possible meanings of the Treaty that it now lacks the clarity to look at it from a fresh perspective. The Treaty (1st Article) gives the Government the right to govern in NZ and that implies that certain things need to be managed. Water by its nature has a big impact on the people of NZ whether that be the people on whose land forms the catchment, a holding area, a passage way etc.
      Because of the multiple people involved the Government must manage this resource. They do so by issuing consents for water use and in theory these consents are based on a management plan. They can be given for commercial use in a way that take into account other uses, I.e. community water supply. They also need to control extremes both drought and flood.
      At present they can recover costs from consent owners – and not royalties.
      An SOE like any other commercial enterprise has a water use consent. The Maori believe they have an ownership right to the water and would like some royalties for its use.
      If the Government agrees, then it needs to determine how royalties maybe collected from those consent holders to pay monies to the Maori.
      This has not a direct impact on the Sale of an SOE as the Tribunal suggests and should not impact on its timing of marketing of shares. The SOE’s are just lumped in with all other consent holders and should not be targeted specifically. The Maori are not asking for ownership of the SOE just some money in lieu of the water use. So the SOE is just one of many consent holders and yes if royalties are charged – (I think this is a policy the Greens would like to push) then monies could be distributed. Other than an extra cost that the SOE along with other consent holders will take up impacting perhaps their overall worth or passing these on to consumers, it has nothing directly to do with the sale from a Maori or a Tribunal perspective.
      I seems logical to me I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong.

    7. By mh on Aug 29, 2012 | Reply

      if the treaty says Maori has the same rights as me a former descendant of a British subject the I must have equal customary rights as well. Am I not now a Maori, if I am no longer considered a Brit? My ancestors built the dam damn,no request for money was received by the then Govt. We were once one people and monies trickled down to all and sundry. We may all fish in these waters with licenses,why this discrimination now? I don’t ask for the SOE either,but I’d like us all to have free or cheaper power.We once had implied consent to help each other,as equal citizens,this racial agreement is not what my ancestors signed up to,nor did they expect such assets to be sold.

    8. By Joe Blow on Aug 29, 2012 | Reply

      @ clairbear

      I’m not necessarily correcting you but it seems to me that most of the “water rights” that these SOEs have are not the kind of water rights that everyone has. For example, like the right to use a river to generate power through the construction of a dam. I guess the SOEs have resource consents for that? How many dams can one river sustain?

      If only Mighty River has the resource consent to generate power from a particular river, would not ownership in the only entity with that right be more or less “ownership” of that right or consent?

      I’m not sure as I haven’t read the Waitangi Tribunal report yet (busy at the moment). Have you read it?

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