Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Maori get urgent court hearing over Mighty River sale

Waikato hapu Pouakani, which won an important Supreme Court victory against the Government this year, will be back in court on Tuesday morning in a last-minute bid to block a key move towards the partial sale of Mighty River Power.

Maori Council lawyers Donna Hall and Felix Geiringer personally filed the papers yesterday seeking a judicial review of decisions the Government has taken as it moves to partially privatise Mighty River Power, Genesis Power and Meridian Energy.

However, they also filed papers on behalf of Pouakani seeking an urgent hearing to prevent senior ministers from passing an order in council on Tuesday which would be a key step in preparing Mighty River for sale.

The order in council is a regulation that would mean Mighty River was no longer a state-owned enterprise and could therefore be partially privatised. "The court has responded to that and made time available on Tuesday morning," Mr Geiringer said.

Announcing this week the Government's intention to proceed with the order in council, Finance Minister Bill English said he expected it would precipitate court action against the sales plan.

He and Prime Minister John Key have said they expect to win any court battle, but Ms Hall said the Maori Council wouldn't have brought its case unless it thought it had a better than 50 per cent chance of winning.

However, the Maori Council will not have the assistance of former Deputy Solicitor-General Matthew Palmer as it had hoped. Dr Palmer, a Treaty law expert, resigned from his role at Crown Law a couple of months ago and "the Government felt there were papers that crossed his desk in his last role that made it just all too awkward", Ms Hall said.

She said Pouakani, which was one of the groups that backed the council's Waitangi Tribunal water claim, was making the initial legal challenge because it had the ability to move very quickly that other tribes along the Waikato River did not have.

The council is still shoring up support, which it hoped to secure following Te Arawa and Ngati Raukawa hui yesterday and Ngati Te Ata today.

Mr Geiringer said the council believed it had strong support from iwi. "They don't want litigation ... It's a last option that the Government has forced upon them but because the Government has done this there's just no question of backing down ... "

Pouakani, a hapu based near Mangakino, this year won a Supreme Court decision clearing the way to claim ownership of parts of the Waikato River where Mighty River has four dams.

Pouakani chairman Tamati Cairns last night said if the Crown sold 49 per cent of Mighty River, "that (voids) my Treaty rights".

"My Treaty rights exist with the Crown. They do not exist with private owners. That's a big issue."

- NZ Herald

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