PM to reveal 'complex' asset sale solution
The government will make "an announcement" about the sale of Might River Power later today, Prime Minister John Key confirmed this morning.
But the PM waffled when pressed for details, offering only "It’s quite a complex position and we have to lay everything out this afternoon."
Last week, Mr Key refused to rule out putting aside special shares for Maori.
Over the weekend, the Maori Council reiterated it would take legal action if the government pressed ahead with the sale of 49% of Mighty Rivery Power this month, ignoring a Waitangi Tribunal recommendation to pause the partial privitisation process.
This morning, Mr Key hinted his government saw such a legal challenge as inevitable.
"If the the Maori Council want to lodge an application in the High Court or Court of Appeal we can’t stop that," the Prime Minister said on TVNZ's Breakfast.
"It’s for the courts to decide whether they want to hear an application."
Asked if Maori Council High Court action could delay Mighty River's IPO, Mr Key said, "Well, who knows? Like any court process you have to work your way through things."
Last week, the Prime Minister said there are only two time windows for partial privatisations: March/April, and around September/October, owing to the timing of the companies' profit announcements and the need to hold a large public share float outside of traditional holiday periods.
On the question of whether the Mighty River float would still happen by Christmas, Mr Key said,"It’s a very complex web of things I have to go through this afternoon and there are other actions that flow from that and I’m not solely in control of that but let’s just see what happens."
Will the government win?
Asked if the government would win a High Court case over water rights, the previously emphatic Prime Minister said, "Well we hope we would win."
Mr Key added, "You have to understand what they [the Maori Council] would be going to court for and it comes down to that point does the sale of shares alter the capacity to register rights and interests? The government’s view of that is no.
"The government’s view is also that no one owns water. That is quite different from the Maori Council view."
The Prime Minister said his government had recognised some rights and interests over the past four years. "So that’s things such as co-management of the Waikato River. There will be ome will believe Maori rights and interests are far more significant. People are free to have that view. That doesn’t mean my government or any other has to recognise those rights and interests unless they’re proven I guess."
He added his perennial question, "Does selling a minority stake in an SOE in any way impinge the rights of Maori to register those rights and interests? The government’s view is 'No it doesn’t'."
The situation has been further clouded by a poor result at Solid Energy last week amid tumbling coal prices, and the potential threat that huge Might River Power customer Noske Skog will halve its consumption. At the same time, Rio Tinto is reconsidering the future of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in Bluff. The smelter uses around 14% of New Zealand's electricity. Cynics see a degree of gamesmanship by both companies, which could be exploiting the need for a quick resolution to secure better power pricing.
Maori Party relations
Asked if the Maori Party would like what he had to say tis afternoon, Mr Key said "They may have a different view. but that would not be new."
National's coalition partner won some arguments, and it lost some. The party had to ask, "Is their position better and the lot of s the lot of Maori better for them being part of the government than outside the tent? And my view is yes," Mr Key said.