Fran O'Sullivan: Who owns what: for an answer, start here

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How the PM might respond to the Maori King's water-rights claim.

Blowing in the wind ... John Key grapples with the problems of ownership. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Blowing in the wind ... John Key grapples with the problems of ownership. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mr Speaker, I rise today in this House to introduce legislation to vest all natural resources - water, geothermal steam, airwaves, aquifers and, for the avoidance of doubt, all minerals, ironsands, magma, rare earth deposits, coal, lignite, methane and uranium in this country and the exclusive economic zone that surrounds our shores - in a new Crown entity representing the combined interests of all the people of New Zealand.

Mr Speaker, my Government considers natural resources like water, geothermal steam, and the aquifers that underpin our rich agricultural plains to be public goods that are part of the common wealth of all New Zealanders.

For the avoidance of doubt - and I know many in this Parliament today will regard this as fanciful - the legislation will also extinguish any "rights and interests" that Maori might claim now and into the future to the commercial use of solar power, the wind, the tides, the navigational properties of the stars and the moon.

This will also include the magma and lava flows which have enriched our soils over the centuries and will do so again in coming volcanic explosions.

My Government will establish Resources New Zealand as a new Crown entity where natural resources will be vested. The Government - at this stage does not assert ownership to all these resources. Some are already in the public domain. But by vesting natural resources in this entity, the Government retains the ability to go about its commercial business in the interests of all New Zealanders but at the same time preserve the flexibility to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with individual iwi and hapu to resolve historical claims where they are proven to stand up.

This is why my Government's offer to negotiate in good faith with the representative tribes which have interests in particular waterwaysthat drive our magnificenthydro-electric schemes still stands despite the sweeping statementby the Maori King that "wehave always owned the water!"

This legislation I am introducing today also recognises the concept of the taniwha as important to Maori but explicitly extinguishes any so-called rights and interests that are claimed to have evolved from this.

But I reject wholeheartedly the notion that any such claims - if proven - should be settled by way of allocations of shares in the state-owned enterprises that we intend to partially privatise: Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy, Meridian and Solid Energy. There are other ways of settling any claims - if proven - including co-management of waterways.

Mr Speaker, there are some in this House that believe the global financial crisis is over. They do not understand that the United States has embarked on a third wave of quantitative easing - or printing money. I have strong concerns that the US is at the edge of a financial cliff. I am also concerned that China - the powerhouse of our neighbourhood - is having to embark on another multi-billion-dollar infrastructure spend to keep domestic growth moving. And that our nearest neighbour, Australia, is slowing down.

That slowdown is also affecting New Zealand as the wave of redundancies in export-sighted industries continues.

Mr Speaker, these are the issues that cry out for the burning attention of my Government.

But I am disappointed that trifling and vexatious claims are now being advanced at the very time we wish to deal with the major water issue.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me say my Government will strongly resist the claim filed by Ngapuhi seeking commercial rights over the wind.

Mr Speaker, New Zealand is an island nation surrounded by a vast coastline. It is subject to the strong winds which circle the globe. The wind is not something that can be captured, bottled or bagged, and sold. The wind - rather like the tides which cause our seas to rise and fall - is simply the bulk movement of air. It can power wind turbines. It can also help propel aircraft.

If Ngapuhi wish to assert a commercial right, it is a simple matter to erect a wind turbine or windmill on their own land.

But for the avoidance of doubt, my Government will also vest the wind within Resources New Zealand. I expect this will result in widespread mirth.

Carried to its logical extreme this could result in Ngapuhi claiming rights to the wind long past our shores and causing the air to move elsewhere - even the United States or South America.

It has also been reported that Ngati Kahungunu iwi has said it will lodge a claim over New Zealand's second-largest aquifer. It is reported that Ngati Kahungunu claims the rights and interests in the waters of "their" aquifer had never been lawfully extinguished.

For the avoidance of doubt I should make clear my Government is seeking advice as to whether - in subsequent legislation - those "rights and interests" should simply be extinguished. Some will say this is a step towards the nationalisation of this resource. And indeed this is something I am giving serious consideration to, along with the wind, the stars, the moon, magma, sunlight and even the internet.

Mr Speaker, it is also notable that Winston Peters - who is also part-Maori - has suggested that all New Zealanders pretend to be Maori to get special privileges under the law.

I have to say that as the son of recent immigrant parents, Mr Peters' suggestion has some appeal.

But as Prime Minister of New Zealand I must stand above my personal interests.

What I am asking this House for is the ability to vest natural resources in a Crown-managed entity while my Government - and subsequent Governments - take the necessary time to negotiate with individual Maori tribes on proven claims. We envisage this will take many decades to settle. But in the meantime Governments will be free to get on with the business of governing New Zealand in all our interests.

Anything else is an abrogation of the Government's responsibilities.


Debate on this article is now closed.</strong>

- NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

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