They blinked. There had been quite a bit of bravado about the Crown's chances of fending off a legal challenge from the Maori Council over asset sales, but in the end it was just too risky. Adam Bennett reports on the crucial element of yesterday's decision: 'The Herald understands legal advice to ministers was that the Government odds of winning a court challenge by the Maori Council were about even' - see: Iwi pushes for shares on credit. Fifty-fifty odds on the Government's flagship policy getting off the ground? Merrill-Lynch would never gamble on those sorts of odds and their ex-trader wasn't about to either.
The Maori Council, opposition parties and the Maori Party are, predictably, happy about the delay, see, for example, James Henderson's What a shambles. But Audrey Young says they shouldn't be under any illusions about what was behind National's decision: 'Were it a treaty partner in from the heart and not a paper partner by judicial decree, it should not have needed legal advice to practise what it preached to consult affected partners' - see: John Key shouldn't relax just yet.
The delay gives the Maori Party some breathing space - but that is all. The party desperately needs to pull together an agreement that has broad Maori support. But as Morgan Godfrey writes, National's apparent determination to selectively deal with individual iwi and hapu poses a big challenge: 'They cannot fall-back on acting as a conduit for the Iwi Leaders Group. The government prefers to deal with the Iwi Leaders, but they represent the commercial interests of our richest iwi rather than the cultural and commercial interests of all iwi, especially pre-settlement iwi' - see: Asset sales delay: initial thoughts.
In a later post, Godfrey's assessment is more damning: 'Essentially, it's divide and rule. The government will drive a wedge between iwi. On one end, the government will co-opt iwi who are affected by the sale of Mighty River Power, including the powerful Waikato-Tainui, while on the other end the government will marginalise iwi who are not affected..... In effect, those iwi who are co-opted will be doing the government's work for them' - see: What the asset sales delay means for Maori.
With ex-MP Rahui Katene fronting for the Maori Council, the pressure on the Maori Party will be both internal and external. A good example of the tensions that National will be looking to exploit - but that will cause their coalition partner grief - can be seen in Tahu Potiki's Press column Ironic to claim Ngai Tahu is greedy. Potiki says: 'Maori showmen like Tamihere know how to twist the debate in the direction they want but all South Islanders need to be vigilant as these northern raiders gather once again on the borders and our water is in their sights'.
While the limited five week consultation process will reduce the risk of successful injunctions and further delays, it doesn't eliminate the risk entirely. John Armstrong says the Maori Council should 'put up or shut up': 'The council has indicated it will go to court to halt the sale of shares in Mighty River Power. Now there is time for that to happen. If the council delays taking legal action until next year, it would simply be seen as vexatious. The courts would have no excuse in not treating such behaviour accordingly' - see: Govt realises sale delay is not defeat.
Even without legal delays there is widespread skepticism that the new timeline can be achieved. Matthew Hooton says the June 2013 target for Mighty River Power is 'at best optimistic and at worst fanciful. The odds of getting Genesis or Meridian done are even worse' - see: Key desperate to stay out of court. Investment advisor Brian Gaynor agrees: 'selling shares in three State electricity companies in 12 months is impossible' - see Radio NZ's More certainty seen as consequence of sale delay.
If uncertainty can be reduced then the floats will be more successful, but it seems many aren't convinced that will be the result: 'Rickey Ward, head of equities at Tyndall Investment Management, said: "The market won't be happy with that."' Tower's Sam Stubbs probably sums up the view of most business analysts trying to make sense of the decision: 'At this stage this is politics, not business' - see Tamsyn Parker's Asset-sale delay troubles investors.
However, the business case for a delay is also getting stronger. In a weekend column (before yesterday's decision) Gaynor outlined the many market problems facing the share floats at the moment and estimates the impact on the sale price could be dramatic: 'This would indicate a value for MRP of approximately $2.5 billion instead of the $4.42 billion in the Government accounts' - see: Finger over pause button for asset sales.
If Plan B fails and ends in a legal defeat, then National still has the legislative option, which will be reliant on United Future and Act. Act's ex-leader Rodney Hide - who voted against the Foreshore and Seabed Act because it infringed property rights - seems to be qualifying his principles: 'Property rights are essential to a peaceful, prosperous society. But property rights must be certain and stable. There are no property rights where they are endlessly litigated' - see Hide's Tribunal enraptured by myths and folk legends.
What's that saying about everything before the 'but'? Blogger Danyl Mclauchlan skewers him for his version of 'newthink': 'Hide is still a staunch defender of most private property rights. He just thinks we should set a statue of limitations on property litigation laws to "ensure certainty", and, coincidentally, preclude Maori from exercising their historic property rights. Everyone else's property rights are really important' - see: Crazy when you think about it.
So who has come out on top so far? Richard Long is picking Winston Peters: 'He managed two key dog whistles. One was to the Right, asking what would be the next claim after water - ''the air?'' Then he signalled the Centre and Left, saying the decision to continue the assets selldown was ''a bloody-minded push for an ideological outcome''' - see: Peters wins via key dog whistles.
Other recent important or interesting political items include:
* Matthew Hooton is a clever writer and commentator - but how accurate are his forecasts? His satirical weekend NBR column is a must-read: A cautionary tale.
* David Farrar does an excellent job of crunching the numbers on both of last weeks' moral votes in Parliament and categorises MPs as either 'Liberal', 'Conservative' or 'Confused' (ie. Liberal on on issue but Conservative on another) - see: MPs overall voting pattern.
* Is it 'mission accomplished' or is New Zealand actually 'cutting and running' from Afghanistan? With the April 2013 pullout confirmed the battle to define the withdrawal has begun: '"The latest announcement came just after the fatalities of our soldiers," says Labour Party leader David Shearer, "so quite clearly it had an impact on how long the Government wanted to stay in Afghanistan' - see Tova O'Brien's Afghan pull-out comes as attacks increase. The Government had originally pledged to stay until September 2014 but the Prime Minister insists the early withdrawal has nothing to do with the recent deaths and is part of a staged process: 'New Zealand's is in arguably one of the safest and most likely places where transition will be successful'.
* In responding to criticism of a previous article on Afghanistan, Paul Thomas points out that there is no argument about withdrawing - the decision has already been made by all western governments. As to the arguments about his failure to back New Zealand's soldiers, Thomas refers to the arguments he heard as a Vietnam war protestor: 'No dominos fell. These days the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a popular tourist destination. It hasn't thrown its weight around apart from invading Cambodia to get rid of the genocidal - and communist - Khmer Rouge. We were right. Those who told us to shut up and support our troops were dead wrong' - see Paul Thomas' Why should we leave? History has the answer.
* Many have asked what was going on inside Barbara Sumner Burstyn's head when she posted her comments on soldier deaths in Afghanistan. Steve Braunias has the answer: The secret diary of . . . Barbara Sumner Burstyn.
* The evidence of growing inequality and increasing poverty continues to pile up, and John Armstrong wonders how long the Government can divert attention from the facts with policy stunts: 'The answer is for as long as the tactic works. Forget civil liberties. Cutting the benefits of the unemployed if they refuse or fail a drug test when that's a requirement of a job offer hits all the right buttons with the wider electorate....For that reason, National will continue to tackle only the more politically noisy and troublesome manifestations of child poverty. Not surprisingly, it does not look kindly on those reminding the public it is doing only that' - see: Child poverty report must not be ignored.
* Cut to the chase says the Listener: 'But right now there are cold, sick and hungry children who deserve direct state action, not as a matter of politics or ideology but as a matter of humanity' - see: Feed the children. See also Tapu Misa's Hearts harden to child poverty.
* Science has taken second place to consumer choice in the debate over folate in bread says Tim Watkin in Get foliced! Now science is just a 'nice to have'.
* As is often the case, many backbench MPs actually shine when they are permitted to use their brains and express their own opinions says Corin Dann in MPs at their best in gay marriage and drink debates.
* Another week, another ACC privacy breach - see the Dominion Post editorial Evidence mounts against muddled ACC. Judith Collins has just made some new appointments to the board - which will come in handy for the next round of sackings.
* Austerity is a good idea if a few do it, but can be an economic disaster if everyone follows suit according to Bernard Hickey in Thrift is a policy trap.
* Finally, was it a case of 'out of the mouths of transcribers' when John Key appeared to commit New Zealand to trotting obediently behind the US in any future conflicts? Russell Brown was understandably alarmed - see: We ... WHAT!?. But it was all a mistake, apparently - see TV3's Key's diction fools transcriber.