The Maori Council's lawyer, Felix Geiringer, was once so determined to slow down a National Government that he lay his body down on the road in front of Bill Birch's ministerial car. Bill Birch drove right over top of the protesting student. That was 1991, shortly after National's 'Mother of all Budgets' and just prior to the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act. Now in 2012, Geiringer and the Maori Council are proving to be an even bigger bump in the road. And a collision seems unavoidable. The question is 'who will collide with who'?
National has raised the stakes on the water rights dispute by demanding that the Waitangi Tribunal speed up its processes, warning that the Government might forge ahead with the sale of Mighty River shares regardless of whether it has received the Tribunal report - see Adam Bennett and Claire Trevett's We're not waiting, Govt tells tribunal. Felix Geiringer is reported as - rather diplomatically - saying that this is 'a concerning development'. See also, Radio NZ's Maori Council shocked at Govt hurry-up on water, in which the Maori Council is labeling the Government's demand as no different to a 'contempt of court'.
Council chairman Maanu Paul has stronger words: 'This amounts to bullying on the Government's part' - see Kate Chapman's Maori Council makes bullying claim after water threat. Chapman says that 'It appears the Government has decided not to let the Maori water rights issue get in the way of asset sales, especially on the basis of what it sees as an opportunist claim. It has also expressed concern that a delay in Mighty River Power's share float could have knock-on effects on other state-owned assets it plans to sell'.
National's surprise move has been well received by rightwing commentator Stephen Franks, who says he's 'heartened' by the Government's more assertive tactics - see Hamish Rutherford's Ex-MP backs new deadline for tribunal. Franks is quoted as saying: 'It looks as if it's a tactic in a game that so far the Crown hasn't been playing strong hands in, telling the other side that they're not cowed by it, and they'll allow the appropriate process to happen but they won't necessarily change course'. Although Franks also raises the possibility of the Government pulling the plug on the whole privatisation programme, he says the Government's latest missive was more about a message that 'we won't allow the timetable to drive the outcome, and if you think you can push it out until we get desperate, then that's not going to work'.
So the impending collision appears to involve the National Government, the Waitangi Tribunal, the Maori Party, and the Maori Council. The latter has clearly taken on a stronger political life lately. Original set up by a previous National Government, the Maori Council was once seen as being National-friendly. Ironically it has become the biggest thorn in the Government's side. Partly, perhaps, this is because it's becoming a proxy for the Maori Party - or at least the radical/legalistic extra-parliamentary wing of the party. It's notable that former Maori Party MP, Rahui Katene, has recently become the deputy chair of the Council. And on Monday, the Council will meet with the Maori Party in Wellington prior to Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia meeting with John Key. Yesterday David Farrar essentially enunciated the Government's current thinking on the issue - see: Will the Government delay?. The Maori Party would be wise to read it.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
• Why do all governments - regardless of their ideological colours - govern in the interests of business? That's the question that Chris Trotter tackles today in his column, Wider hazard explains brakes on promise. Trotter argues that business has a structural ability under capitalism to influence the decisions of politicians. Regardless of whether governments are headed by Labour or National parties, they need to make sure that business is happy, because of their ability to invest and make the economy profitable. That's why, Trotter says, Labour parties tend towards moderation and compromise.
• What is a 'plastic Maori', and who decides? Ex-Labour MP Kelvin Davis is now blogging on Morgan Godfery's Maui St. His latest blogpost, Kelvin Davis on the best and worst Maori Politicians, evaluates the performance of Maori MPs, but controversially labels National MPs Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges as 'plastic' Maori. Davis marks them down in his Maori MP rankings for 'having Tory DNA more dominant than Maori DNA'. Other National MPs get similar treatment - Jamie-Lee Ross: 'gawd, he's a Maori?' Fellow Maori politics specialist blogger, Joshua Hitchcock, comments: 'Really? Plastic Maori? Why does someone having different political views from you mean that they are somehow less Maori? I remember a time when Maori were considered a lesser form of human, I would like to think that we are more enlightened'.
• There's no love lost between ACC Minister Judith Collins and her ex-chairman John Judge - see Adam Bennett's Date row over ACC chair's computer. Meanwhile, Collins' claims about Judge hampering the ACC investigation has apparently 'led to a surge in trading on iPredict on whether Judge himself leaked sensitive emails to the media' - see Stuff's ACC email comments boost iPredict trading on Judge. Currently, the iPredict site suggests the odds of 'Judge to be found to have leaked Boag email' are 43%.
• Although John Tamihere might have thrown his lot back in with the Labour Party - and is apparently canvassing electorate opportunities for 2014 - this hasn't stopped him endorsing National's charter schools - see RNZ's Tamihere backs charter school rules. Today's Herald editorial agrees, emphasising their potential for helping Labour's traditional constituents, but warning against their use by religious groups - see: Charter schools will give poorer parents choice.
• Lockwood Smith is soon to depart his Speakers chair, to be replaced by Local Government Minister David Carter, who will be replaced by Nick Smith returning to Cabinet. That's the prediction of TV3's Duncan Garner, who says 'Although no one is ready to confirm it, it's all but done' - see: Nick Smith could return to Cabinet. Meanwhile, Nick Smith says that by focusing on 'gay marriage, Mondayising public holidays, and arguing about the minimum wage', Parliament is 'losing the plot'.
• It's a sign of how vulnerable public figures and institutions are now to allegations of 'corporate cronyism'. Treasury is on a mission to show that it's not 'too matey with the private sector', and so Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf is being reported as turning down 'invitations to schmooze with private sector high-flyers' - see: Paul McBeth's Treasury boss Makhlouf: Thanks, but no thanks....
• Insurance companies have become the subject of much contempt in the rebuild of Christchurch. Today Marta Steeman reports on the progress - or lack there of - being made by the various companies - see: Anger as commercial settlements faster.
• MFAT is gaining a reputation for spending significant amounts of money on outside contractors - often without a transparent tender process - see Kate Chapman's Further Mfat uncontested contracts revealed. See also, Contracts to ex-Mfat staff 'should be contestable'.
• The privatisation of Telecom in 1990 has become the iconic negative example of privatisation. The story is retold in a very interesting item today by Chris Barton, reporting on the Paul Goldsmith's new book, 'Serious Fun: The Life and Times of Alan Gibbs' - see: Telecom jackpot: How privatisation made fortunes.
• The Price of Fish screened last night on TV3, and you can still watch it online. The documentary 'investigates the way foreign charter fishing boats are causing dwindling New Zealand fish stocks, abusing crews, doctoring catch reports, and dumping illegally'. Meanwhile, Danya Levy reports that Crew won't get Government help to get owed wages.
• If you've ever struggled to understand New Zealand's foreign policy, Paul Buchanan provides a broad but analytical overview in Deconstructing New Zealand Foreign Policy.
• TVNZ7's Back Benchers show is rumoured to be on the verge of being rehabilitated by Prime TV. Meanwhile, Russell Brown reports that his TVNZ7 replacement Media3 starts next week. And for yet more informed discussion on the future of public broadcasting, you can 'tune in' today to the University of Otago webcast panel discussion on the Future of Public Broadcasting in NZ which involves Colin Peacock, David Beatson, Lorraine Isaacs, Erika Pearson and Paul Norris - you can watch online at 5:15pm here.