Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

SOE sales: Treaty provisions survive

Prime Minister John Key (right) hongis with Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key (right) hongis with Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Maori Party has won a partial victory in forcing the National Government to include Treaty provisions in legislation paving the way for asset sales but have accepted their bid to have those obligations apply to private investors was misguided.

Section 9 of the of the State Owned Enterprises Act which protects Maori interests under the Treaty of Waitangi will be replicated in new legislation supporting partial asset sales introduced today by the Government.

"During consultation hui last month, Maori conveyed a clear view that Section 9 should be retained in the new legislation", State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall said.

Finance Minister Bill English said the Government entered its partial asset sale or "mixed ownership model" with an open mind.

"Replicating Section 9 into the new legislation ensures we can proceed with the mixed ownership programme without prejudicing the rights of Maori or the Crowns's ability to settle future Treaty claims."

Mr Ryall said the new legislation would replicate the wording of Section 9 as it appeared in the SOE Act but would also add a passage clarifying that its provisions only applied to the Crown.

"The Treaty is an agreement between the Crown and iwi", Mr Ryall said. "Therefore it is not possible to bind non-Crown groups to Treaty provisions."

Section 9 will remain in the SOE Act and Mr Ryall pointed out it only applied to the Crown and not the SOEs themselves.

"Similarly, the Treaty Clause in the Public Finance Act will apply to the Crown and not to the mixed ownership companies or minority shareholders."

The decision is a backdown by the Government which was warned the issue could sink its coalition with the Maori Party.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said his party had made it very clear it didn't support the legislation.

"We won't be voting for it. However when it was to be put up anyway, we noticed that there was no reference to the Treaty in the original and that was our concern and that's why we put our jobs on the line basically for that Treaty reference and that's our issue.

"We looked at Section 9 in the SOE Act and saw that it should be represented in the new Act and after a while of negotiations and iwi consultations, word for word, it's in there we're really happy with that."

However, Mrs Turia and Dr Sharples initially indicated they would wanted Section 9 to apply to private investors who bought shares in the partially privatised companies, even threatening to walk out of their agreement with National if it was not achieved.

That was also the strongly voiced desire of Maori during the the iwi consultation.

This afternoon, Dr Sharples said the Maori Party would have welcomed that, but it was not their "main concern".

Mrs Turia said: "The fact is that we cannot hold private investors to the Treaty, they're not signed up to it, we signed the treaty with the Crown''.

She also acknowledged she and Dr Sharples had not been aware private investors could never have been bound by the Treaty.

"We can't have been otherwise we wouldn't have said what we did."

Meanwhile, Mr Ryall said the Government was also taking a number of other steps to bring Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy and Meridian into alignment with companies listed on the sharemarket.

That included removing their Official Information Act and Ombudsmen Act obligations said Mr English.

"The mixed ownership companies operate in a competitive environment, and, once listed, will have comprehensive continuous disclosure requirements under stock exchange rules," Mr English said.

Under the new legislation the mixed ownership companies would not be subject to the corporate responsibility obligations either.

- NZ Herald

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