The Government's decision to delay the partial float of Mighty River Power in order to consult iwi affected with waters used by the power company sounds sensible enough.

And the politics of rejecting outright the special treatment Maori shareholders might have had in the Waitangi Tribunal's activist solution of ''shares plus'' will suit National very well.

But the Government's actions are based very much on self-interest. It has calculated that its chances of being stopped by a court challenge will be less if it actually acts like a Treaty Partner and consults iwi by iwi, river by river, SOE by SOE.

It has had its legal advice from Crown Law double-checked by two QCs. Were it a treaty partner in from the heart and not a paper partner by judicial decree, it should not have needed legal advice to practise what it preached to consult affected partners.

Advertisement

The fact it thought it could get away with it, is telling.

The Maori Council's actions in disrupting the Government's flagship policy of SOE part-sales is a victory, even if it ends up being a short-term one.

But ultimately the Government has washed its hands of the Maori Council's approach. The Government has said there will be no pan-Maori settlement. And it hard to envisage any legal grounds upon which a High Court could force the Government's hand against the alternative iwi by iwi approach.

The challenge for the Crown will be to show it has conducted genuine consultation. How will it respond if the iwi it consults over Mighty River Power - Key says there will be eight - joins forces and propose something more than the co-governance arrangements that Tainui and others have over the Waikato - perhaps a "co-governance plus" proposal.

The delay means there could be a citizens initiated referendum held before the float, now scheduled for between March to June next year.

At his post-cabinet press conference, John Key made it sound like delay was the sensible course to follow. He has quite a knack of looking relaxed. There is a lot more water to go through this dam before he should feel relaxed.