John Armstrong 's Opinion

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Maori Party has a 51 per cent win

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Dr Pita Sharples. Photo / Getty Images
Dr Pita Sharples. Photo / Getty Images

A victory for the Maori Party - of sorts. Its tussle with National over asset sales and the Treaty is over with co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples securing their bottom line - replication of Section 9 of the State-Owned Enterprises Act in new legislation covering partly-privatised state companies.

However, the section, which declares that "nothing in this act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi", will only apply to the Crown's 51 per cent shareholding in the new companies, not to the 49 per cent which will be in private hands.

Initially, the Maori Party's threats to walk out of its confidence and supply agreement with National included insistence that Section 9 should apply to all shareholders.

Turia and Sharples readily admitted yesterday that they had failed to secure total coverage. In the end - as the pair intimated - the numbers determined the outcome of negotiations.

The National Party has 59 MPs. The Maori Party has just three. It could only get so much of what it was demanding.

Sure, the Maori Party could still have walked. But the legislation setting up National's new "mixed ownership model" would still have been passed into law as National, with the votes of Act's John Banks and United Future's Peter Dunne, would have just enough backing. Moreover, there would have been no Treaty clause of any sort.

The Maori Party may get the last laugh, however. It is still unclear how one group of shareholders can somehow be immune from the effects of decisions impacting on other shareholders.

The Government may have been provided with weighty legal opinions which say there is nothing for Cabinet ministers to worry about.

But there is a distinct feeling of deja vu; that an over-confident Government is flying blind through all of this - much as the Labour Government did in the 1980s when it set up the state-owned enterprises model only to find itself being overruled by the courts which declared Maori interests had to be recognised by the Crown.

There is also another question - one for the Maori Party. Sharples could say yesterday with some justification that while he and Turia had put their jobs on the line, the end result was proof you really had to be at the table "to do battle".

The latter statement was a valid poke at his party's critics. The former is more problematic. How many times can you say you are going to walk without carrying through on the threat? Not that the Maori Party was crying wolf but next time it will be wide open to such an accusation.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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