Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Govt refuses to delay SOE sales bill for tribunal hearings

SOE Minister Tony Ryall. Photo / APN
SOE Minister Tony Ryall. Photo / APN

The Government will not delay the passage of the bill allowing share floats of state-owned enterprises until after the Waitangi Tribunal has held its urgent hearings on the matter.

Ministers are insisting such sales would not affect the rights and interests of iwi and will not set aside any shares for future settlement.

But SOE Minister Tony Ryall says the Government could be prepared at a later stage to "stand in the market" and buy shares for some iwi as part of Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

The Government's refusal to budge on its timetable means the tribunal will be under pressure to hold its hearings before the law is passed.

Submissions must be in by June, the hearing will be in July and the tribunal plans an interim report in July.

The hearings follow a claim by the Maori Council and 11 others that the sales breach the Treaty and a more general claim that the Crown has denied or violated rights over freshwater and geothermal resources.

Mr Ryall told the Weekend Herald the Mixed Ownership Model Bill would be back from select committee by July 16 and passed soon after that.

It needed to be passed no later than August to enable the first partial float, of Mighty River Power, to be conducted in the third quarter of the year, as set out in the sales timetable.

"We're not considering delaying progress on the bill," he said. "We have a timeline we have to stick to."

Mr Ryall said any decisions from the tribunal would not affect the legislation but could affect government actions after the law was passed.

"We don't think the sales affect Maori rights and interests and we think that is supported by current case law."

He cited the Ika Whenua case in the 1990s when the Government planned to transfer dams to several energy companies and the Court of Appeal declined an application to stop that transfer, saying Maori rights would not be diminished by it.

The Government would be putting that position very strongly in the tribunal hearings, Mr Ryall said.

He said the history of the Government had been to address such issues on an iwi-by-iwi basis rather than a pan Maori basis.

- NZ Herald

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