Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

PM tries to reassure over asset sales

Prime Minister John Key talks to media at Waitangi. He's used his Waitangi Day breakfast address to defend some of his government's more controversial policies. Photo / Natalie Slade
Prime Minister John Key talks to media at Waitangi. He's used his Waitangi Day breakfast address to defend some of his government's more controversial policies. Photo / Natalie Slade

The Prime Minister has defended some of the Government's most controversial actions at his annual Waitangi Day breakfast - including mining, asset sales and the Crafar Farms sale to a Chinese company.

Mr Key delivered his Waitangi Address this morning at a breakfast which included iwi leaders, officials and dignitaries.

He defended Government plans for partial asset sales, saying it would provide much needed capital for social investment such as upgrading schools.

However, he also attempted to reassure iwi leaders that the Treaty would not be a casualty of those asset sales - making a firm statement that although ditching the Treaty clause for mixed ownership model companies was listed as an option in the Government's consultation document, the Government did not want that to happen.

He said although Treasury had recommended no Treaty clause be included in the new legislation for those asset sales, the Government had a different view.

"Treasury's view on life, more often than not, is dictated by what delivers the greatest economic performance. That is not necessarily in line with the range of issues that the Government of the day has to consider.

"Not all roads lead to the bank. Some lead to other parts of our community. On that basis, the Government's view is that there needs to be a Treaty clause for those companies that are taken out of the State Owned Enterprises Act."

He said the options were either a specific Treaty clause, or other options including a general Treaty clause, similar to section nine.

"The reason the Government favours a specific Treaty clause is on the basis of eliminating ambiguity - not because the Government wants to walk away from its Treaty obligations."

Mr Key also had a message for the protestors who disrupted his visit to Te Tii Marae yesterday, who were partly protesting against oil drilling.

Mr Key said he would not back away.

He said it was possible to expand exploration and mining activities in a way that was "sensible, environmentally sustainable and appropriate." He said the Government could not ignore the wealth and jobs that more mining would create.

He said New Zealand knew how to spend like a first world country, "we need to learn how to earn like a first world country."

He was more than happy to talk to those protestors about that issue "if they want to have a sensible debate about the future of New Zealand, because when people have jobs and higher incomes, they have more choices."

He said legislation would be created to cover the Exclusive Economic Zone before any permits were granted to drill on the seabed.

"New Zealand should have the best environmental standards and operating conditions, but if we are going to abandon every opportunity available to New Zealand then what we see is more Maori leaving New Zealand to go and live in Australia."

He also defended the decision to grant approval for the Chinese company Shanghai Pengxin to buy the Crafar farms, saying while he did not agree with wholesale sell-offs of land New Zealand should "embrace" such relationships.

He said China was New Zealand's second largest export market and could become its largest.

"We have enormous potential to maximise our opportunities with that country.

"The question is how we channel that investment in the best interest of New Zealand. It's actually not my view that wholesale sale of land is necessarily the right track to take. The right track actually is joint ventures in areas of high value such as food production."

However, he said part of the overall relationship with a country such as China would involve some such sales.

"From New Zealand's point of view, we need to embrace that because my view is that New Zealanders are quite hungry for a higher standard of living, better opportunities for their families and things most of us actually want.

"And if we want those things, we have to pay for them."

He told those at the breakfast that he wanted to deliver a stocktake of the last three years before touching on issues that lay ahead.

The National Party's agreement with the Maori Party included a ministerial committee on poverty, which he said both had wanted. He said addressing poverty and deprivation was the key to helping raise New Zealanders' standard of living and the Government's focus on lifting school achievement levels was critical to that.

- NZ Herald

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