Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

We're not waiting, Govt tells tribunal

Finance Minister Bill English. Photo / Greg Bowker
Finance Minister Bill English. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Government says it will decide early next month if it will go ahead with the sale of Mighty River shares this year, whether it has a detailed Waitangi Tribunal report on Maori water rights or not.

Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall yesterday told the tribunal to speed up the delivery of its findings on a Maori Council claim into water rights by a month.

The ministers said leaving the tribunal decision until next month as scheduled would affect the Government's entire asset-sales programme.

Mr English said he had asked the tribunal to deliver its findings by August 24 because the Government would need to make decisions by the first week of September if it were to proceed with the partial float of Mighty River Power this year.

He said the Government would make its decision then whether it had the tribunal's findings or not, "on the basis of all the information available to us at that time, including the Waitangi Tribunal's memorandum of July 30".

In that memorandum this week, the tribunal requested the Government delay the Mighty River float until it delivered its findings. It said such a delay should have little or no impact on the timing of the planned float.

But Mr English said this was incorrect. Delaying beyond the first week of September could mean the Government lost the chance to make the initial public offer this year and could result in a delay to the entire asset-sales plan over the next two years.

But even if the tribunal complied with the Government's request to deliver its findings early, that would give ministers little more than a week to consider them.

Maori Council lawyer Felix Geiringer said the Government's deadline was "a concerning development" at odds with its public statements about treating the matter seriously.

"It seems they only want to treat it seriously if it can be done in such a way that it won't possibly interfere with the plans they have anyway."

He said the tribunal had 14,000 pages of documents to consider and needed time for its decision. He believed the Government also needed more than a week to digest the tribunal's report before responding.

He also asked why Mr English was now referring to a two-year programme for state asset sales when the Treasury and the Crown had previously said it was expected to be done over four to five years.

A spokesman for Mr English said selling off all three power companies and Solid Energy before the next election was potentially possible but no decisions had been made about the overall timing of the programme.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said it was important for due process to take place and the timing was in the hands of the tribunal.

He and his co-leader, Tariana Turia, will meet Mr Key on Monday to discuss the Government's response to the tribunal's request to halt asset sales until September - and the Government's counter.

Dr Sharples said he would not pre-empt that meeting, but he and Mrs Turia have called a hui for Maori with an interest in the proceedings on Monday to hear their views.

Those invited include the Maori Council and hapu and iwi leaders.

Dr Sharples said he did not expect to get a consensus from them but believed there was some unity possible on the issue.

SPEED IT UP

September
Waitangi Tribunal findings on Maori water rights due.

August 24
Deadline requested by Bill English for tribunal's findings.

- NZ Herald

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