Count to 10 and calm down, judge tells Felix Geiringer

Plenty of heated discussion on day two of the Maori Council's asset sales challenge.

Hot-under-the-collar Maori Council lawyer Felix Geiringer suffered a sustained caning from Justice Ron Young in the latest round of the Mighty River Power sale challenge.

Mr Geiringer ran foul of Justice Young several times in Wellington High Court as he struggled to get traction for his accusation that Prime Minister John Key told the public no-one could own water, while secretly knowing it was possible.

“The prime minister says under common law no one owns water. Are you saying that’s wrong?” Justice Young asked.

Mr Geiringer said anyone could own water. “You can own it in a bottle, you can own it in a pool.”

But Justice Young dismissed this view as pedantic and reminded Mr Geiringer they had to be sensible “it’s about flowing water”.

After a heated discussion about it, Justice Young cautioned Mr Geiringer not to get too frustrated.

“Just stop a moment and take a breath. Count to 10. Be conscious of where you are and be cool.”

The Maori Council and Poukina Claims Trust are challenging next year’s planned partial asset sales.

Mighty River Power is set to be the first state owned enterprise to be partially sold off.

Mr Geiringer claims the government’s move to transfer Mighty River Power from the State Owned Enterprises Act to the Public Finance (Mixed Ownership Model) Amendment Act 2012 would cause the government to lose control.

“It will cause prejudice to the Crown to consider claims in the future… The Crown could use its control now to ameliorate the prejudice to Maori through the mixed ownership model.”

He admitted the Maori council accepted the mixed ownership model legislation would be passed and would ultimately lead to a loss of control. But he says before the government loses control, it needs to take decisive action.

But Justice Young said Mighty River Power did not assert ownership of the water and it was not likely to change with the partial sale.

“Mighty River Power just has a right to use the water. It’s not even like an irrigation company, which actually uses the water. In Mighty River Power’s case, the water is still in the river at the end of the use.”

But Mr Geiringer disagreed. He said Mighty River Power “very much” used the water.

“It’s destructive. It completely destroys the river. It’s inaccurate to say the water doesn’t get used up just because it doesn’t come out of the other end.”

Mr Geiringer said under the new mixed ownership model the dams could be sold without the Crown even knowing it.

He also talked up the benefits preferential shares – a scheme which would see the Crown hold extra shares in Mighty River Power for the rights and interests of the hapu.

But Justice Young failed to see the benefit, and questioned how buying shares in any company recognised interests.

bcunningham@nbr.co.nz

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