Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Drowning in water rights debate

The dam at the northern end of Lake Karapiro in the Waikato is operated by Mighty River Power. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The dam at the northern end of Lake Karapiro in the Waikato is operated by Mighty River Power. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Government faces some difficult choices over the water claim, but it does have choices. Delay is probably the 'only wise and commercially sound option', as Tim Watkin writes in Push on or delay? National's defining, high stakes choice.

Watkin thinks Key's record shows he is willing to take the time, but the political opportunity to score some easy polling points may see him 'give into temptation' and push the asset sales forward. Both the tight timeframe and the uncertainty have many commentators wondering if the Mighty River Power float can go ahead this year, and whether Key's pragmatic streak will win - see Gordon Campbell's On this week's arm-wrestling over water rights.

However, the Government is 'battle ready' says Audrey Young - ready to fight any court challenge on the one hand while clearly indicating an iwi-by-iwi negotiation is how they will proceed, possibly with a mechanism being set up for interests in particular bodies of water to be registered - see: Key ready for Mighty River fight.

Both fighting off a legal challenge and not appearing to be openly dismissive of Maori concerns will require a process that can deal with them and, inevitably, produce some concessions on shares. Key is clearly not ruling out preferential access to shares - see: Mighty River: Key leaves door open to Maori shares. Crucial to this is the co-operation of some major iwi, and Tuwharetoa paramount chief Sir Tumu te Heuheu has clearly indicated that he favours direct negotiations rather than litigation, meaning the Government can move ahead even if they are doing battle with the Maori Council in court - see Audrey Young's Maori split on action over water rights.

That points to an obvious decision: push ahead with the sales while running a parallel process that reduces the water claim challenge to a 'river by river, iwi by iwi' negotiation. This would give the Crown lawyers a weapon with which to fight off the inevitable Maori Council legal challenge and blunt the claims of breaching the Treaty. If the Government does lose in court then enabling legislation would have to be back on the table, which could, and would, be exploited politically for all it was worth. The sales could proceed as planned and, if they didn't, the delay would be compensated by a political bonus for National.

Pity the Maori Party, which is now hostage to National's decision. Its choices are likely to be grim ones - accept whatever process or deal is negotiated and face the howls of betrayal for legitimising a breach of the Treaty, or leave 'the table' and along with it anything to show for its very tough years sitting alongside National. The latter would be the Maori Party's only option if National decides to legislate away any inconvenient legal challenges. With ex-Maori Party MP Rahui Katene leading the charge on behalf of the Maori Council, the tensions within the party may again reach breaking point.

For the opposition parties the choice is easy - the sales should be delayed and, of course, cancelled altogether - see Kate Chapman's Asset sale delay 'in national interest'.

The opportunity that the Maori Council has provided to delay the sales shouldn't blind the left to their real interests, which aren't that different to the Iwi Leaders Group, argues John Moore in his blog post, Whose water?

Other important or interesting political items today include:
Steve Braunias has a talent for getting straight to the (vicious) point, and in this week's Secret Diary of David Shearer he mercilessly parodies the Labour Party leader's recent anti-dole-bludger campaign via the targeting of a sickness beneficiary painting his roof. Meanwhile, Giovanni Tiso (@gtiso) continues his quest to get an answer from David Shearer (@DavidShearerMP) on Twitter about the validity of his beneficiary-on-the-roof anecdote. Tiso has been asking every day without reply, and yesterday resorted to asking in Finnish.

But is David Shearer really getting a fair deal? Matthew Hooton argues in the NBR that Shearer deserves greater loyalty. He also makes the argument that the recent attacks on David Cunliffe via Duncan Garner came from the Grant Robertson faction of the party.

This year's biggest scandal in terms of alleged political corruption got a greater airing in the weekend when TV3's 60 Minutes ran Guyon Espiner's investigation into how Shane Jones ended up granting New Zealand citizenship to a Chinese man wanted by the Chinese government for identity theft and fraud - you can watch the 19-minute documentary online here. Guyon Espiner has also blogged in detail about it all: Citizen Yan, and Patrick Gower has reported that John Key is suggesting that Yan's citizenship could be revoked, and that 'clearly Shane Jones has got some big questions to answer' - see: Strip Chinese millionaire of citizenship - PM.

The Government has new legislation planned to tighten up loopholes that currently make New Zealand vulnerable to being a base for corruption. But according to Matt Nippert, the Companies and Limited Partnerships Draft bill does little to stop corruption. Meanwhile, on June 30 next year the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 comes into effect - see Michael Berry's New act targets money-laundering.

The public conversation about New Zealand in Afghanistan shifted in the weekend to focus on the anti-war sentiments of film-maker Barbara Sumner-Burstyn, who made comments on Facebook that offended many - see Andrew Koubaridis' Facebook page shut after threats to critic. Chris Trotter today condemns her comments as 'thoroughly obnoxious' and 'ignorant', and sees them as evidence of the negative influence that social media is having on political discourse - see: Is social media making us crueller?

But clearly, it's measure of the public mood that her comments received such widespread vitriol, including threats of death and rape, allegedly from within the military. Her reported Apology over dead soldier comments has obviously done nothing to appease her detractors. But today's Manawatu Standard editorial, Comments were way off the mark, takes a different approach, condemning the soldier who set up the anti-Sumner-Burstyn Facebook page and those who joined it: "The idea that Burstyn should relinquish her passport is based on the assumption that criticising New Zealand's foreign policy is unpatriotic. But there is nothing more un-Kiwi than making violent and disgusting threats based on someone's opinion, so perhaps the perpetrators should start thinking about packing their bags and getting out of the country."

United Future held its annual party meeting in the weekend where apparently only 20 people turned up - see Audrey Young's United puts message on rebrand to AGM of 20. The party is embarking on yet another re-brand - this time to win 'the support of British immigrants to New Zealand who identified with the Liberal Democrats'. Party blogger, Pete George, has reiterated that the party is struggling to survive and suggests that to do so means being more than just a vehicle for leader Peter Dunne - see: Hard road ahead for United Future?

The 2014 general election can comfortably be predicted to be fought on the economy, and this makes John Armstrong's weekend column essential reading - see: Nats play long game for hearts and minds. Armstrong says that National is vulnerable on economic growth, but strong on other vital issues such as interest rates and inflation. And "Labour is not making significant dents in National's economic credibility." He insightfully warns against taking seriously all the vacuous so-called vision documents that emanate from the various parties, which normally indicate that the politicians have run out of ideas but need to defensively position themselves against opponents' attacks.

We hear a lot about the unfair tax burden on the rich, and also about Government attempts to clamp down on tax avoidance by the rich, but according to Danya Levy Half NZ's super-rich dodge tax.

The first reading of the controversial marriage equality bill is set to be passed tomorrow according to the number crunching of the Herald - see Isaac Davison's Slim majority backs gay marriage bill. Davison also reports that the apparently socially liberal-voting MPs don't normally suffer electorally on such conscience votes on sexuality - see: Pastors pile pressure on MP over gay marriage bill. But it might still be a very heated conscience vote according to John Hartevelt's Torrid response to gay marriage bill.

On the topic of euthanasia, the Prime Minister has pulled back from his controversial statements of last week - see Danya Levy's Key dials back euthanasia comments, and Rodney Hide makes a heartfelt case in favour of Maryan Street's End of Life Choice Bill in Focus on the big picture - a compassionate death.

On the other big moral/social/conscience issue of the moment - alcohol law - Isaac Davison reports MPs dithering on alcohol purchasing age.

It's time to talk about child poverty again - that's the appropriate title of Tim Watkin's TVNZ opinion piece in which he explains that the issue is back on the agenda with the release of the Children's Commissioner's Expert Advisory Group (EAG) report. And the report is relatively radical - see Kate Shuttleworth's Experts: Restart universal child payment.

The National Government is proving to be surprisingly interventionist in people's lives - and the latest example is mandatory drug testing of beneficiaries with punitive associated measures - see Kate Shuttleworth's Bennett's tough new benefit drug-test rules.

The issue of the Christchurch rebuild isn't in much in the politics headlines at the moment, but there is still significant dissent about elements of the proposed rebuild - see Lois Cairns' Costs could bar small firms from CBD, TVNZ's Christchurch blueprint 'an utter failure' - developer and The Political Scientist's Coming up for air in the New Jerusalem.

Finally, although the word 'Constitution' might be one of the most boring in the English language, the current Constitutional Review is dealing with some major political and social issues. The McGuiness Institute - a non-partisan think tank - is currently running an impressive workshop at Parliament for 50 young people to get the conversation going - see: Let the drafting begin!

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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