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Rough ride for Maori claimants in asset sales hearing

High Court proceedings challenging the government's partial privatisation of Mighty River Power began today and immediately faced strong questioning from the presiding judge, Justice Ronald Young.

Appearing for the Waikato River and Dams Claims Trust and the Poukani Claims Trust, Helen Cull QC argued that Maori claims to water and land rights could not be adequately protected once MRP was removed from the State-Owned Enterprises Act and placed under new law covering the so-called Mixed Ownership Model companies.

The government wants to sell up to 49% of MRP and two other state-owned electricity companies, but plans to mount the MRP sale in 2012 were derailed by objections originally brought by the Maori Council.

The council is due to make its submissions tomorrow, before Crown lawyers respond in hearings that may take all week, and are expected to go to appeal, irrespective of the outcome.

The government hopes formal consultations already undertaken will convince the courts there are no grounds for further challenge to its asset sales policy, and that a sale can occur in the second quarter of next year, subject to favourable market conditions.

Ms Cull argued the provisions of legislation covering MOM companies and purporting to protect Maori interests in freshwater suffered from being less complete than SOE Act protections and that the partially privatised company would be commercially motivated to oppose claims lodged under the Treaty of Waitangi.

However, Justice Young pushed back strongly in several exchanges with Ms Cull, saying he could not understand the argument, given that the legislation explicitly assures Maori that the Crown would continue to be liable for settlement of such claims.

"You are really saying parliament isn't sovereign, that it is subject to the commercial interests of people involved with MRP", he said at one point. But parliament changed the operating environment for companies "all the time".

He discouraged Ms Cull from pursuing evidence of difficulties being experienced by some applicants to lodge such claims, saying that was not relevant to the provisions of the relevant statute.

"If the statute says it's protected, it's protected," Justice Young said. The reassurance about the ability to continue pursuing Treaty of Waitangi claims was in the MOM legislation.

"Shareholders can't object. They know the statute exists."

The combative court environment continued after the morning break.

"Any Maori, hapu or iwi who believe they have rights to water can make a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, irrespective of this. There is a mechanism," said Justice Young of arguments from Ms Cull that there was insufficient protection for assets that are or could in the future be subject to Treaty claims.

"You identify a right and file a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal or negotiate a settlement," he said.

Ms Cull argued there was no guarantee of relevant redress for claimants under the MOM process.


Comments and questions

Great to see Maori gravy train lawyer encountering some resistance ... at last.

What a great waste of taxpayer money. Child poverty among Maori, if they REALLY cared about their people's well-being, would be a good place to start.

And don't forget Maori child sexual abuse, child mortality rates, children and crime. Where's the ethics in spending millions on lawyers instead of applying these funds to fixing serious social problems. I guess greed is more important...

And it's going to continue... there is no doubt this will appealed all the way to the Supreme Court...

And don't forget Maori unemployment. Maori GIVEN fishing quota which Maori then grant to overseas vessels who employ overseas crew. Meanwhile, Maori sit on the dole.

Ask any fishermen what these hydro stations have done to fishing. The lowering of lake and river levels has destroyed habitats.

Has this government forgotten anglers from overseas spend a lot more as tourists than others. The same could be true for previous governments, which continue to exploit the environment at the expense of others.

Private businesses and public companies are often worst. All the more reason the local iwi should demand some protectism to this sale process, which shouldn't be going ahead anyway.

There are no guarantees this, like other state asset sales, end up long-term majority owned overseas. How is that good country? What kind of democracy is this? A Jonkey dictatorship, that's what, and you won't be able to follow the money because it will be hidden in blind trust tax havens.

It's time everyone woke up and smelt the roses.

It's time we got some sustainable power sources but you seem more interested in pleasant fishing conditions.

Who cares about the fish?

Anonymous, it is also time you did a little real world reading.

If the government owns 51% of the shares how can these companies wind up in 'long-term majority owned overseas'? In my world 51 % is majority ownership.


One solution is to build more water catchment. Water is forecast to become continually scarce. This means if we don't increase catchment when it's plentiful, the price of power skyrockets in summer and the hydro lakes get drained.

It's wrong to sell any of the fundamental wealth creation infrastructure of the country, period. Would any of you sell half your job, house, car or home appliances just of get a bit of cash in?

The assets have already been sold, long gone to fund our ever-increasing welfare state and buy successive elections. This is just a symptom of the approaching day when the piper wants paying.

Yes, I would sell 50% of these items if I believed I could invest this money for a better return than I am currently getting.

Any rational person would sell an asset if the price allowed the same or greater income to be earned (or in this case, interest cost to be avoided) than the current income stream. If the Government gets enough for the assets it proposes to sell, and still has control to prevent abuse, then how can there be a problem?

My concern is that the assets will be under-priced, but if I manage to pick up some shares that will worry me a lot less.

All power to Justice Young!

At last someone who is prepared to stand up for common sense. We have too long put up with re-invented history, spurious claims of a "partnership", and moved roads to accommodate superstitious claims about taniwha.

These are the same arguments that Helen Cull deployed unsuccessfully in the High Court and Court of Appeal five years ago when challenging the Te Arawa treaty settlement. As Ms Cull described it to the Court of Appeal in that case, parliamentary "serenity" (for which read sovereignty) must prevail.

Good job, about time the Maori gravy train gets pulled into line! Well done Justice Young!

Well said LCC