This is a big year for Maori politics. So far we have seen ongoing water claims that have (temporarily?) derailed the Government's assets sales programme, the emergence of highly-polarising claims about ownership of the air, various Maori Party and Mana controversies, and now we are witnessing a major settlement of the Tuhoe Te Urerewa grievance. As Patrick Gower has written, this agreement is massive - see his opinion piece, Tuhoe deal 'monumental'. Most fascinating and challenging are 'the possibilities that "Mana Motuhake" opens up for Tuhoe to develop as its own nation in the decades to come'. He also says, 'There are many questions: how control of the park will work over time, and how much independence will Tuhoe achieve? Will Tuhoe move to a genuine "nation within a nation"?'

Questions about Maori self-determination (or Tino rangatiratanga) have always been the most ambiguous yet radical elements of the bi-cultural and Maori nationalist projects. And it's always been in the Ureweras that this has had the most political resonance and meaning - especially as Ngai Tuhoe did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi, as well as the eastern Bay of Plenty having the most potential for the establishment of a self-governing separate Maori state, which gave a very political angle to the actions of Tame Iti and those that trained in the Ureweras. Although the Urewera deal makes significant allowance for Tuhoe control over the delivery of government and iwi services, 'Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson has ruled out any idea that the Crown's deal with Ngai Tuhoe could lead to self-governance for the iwi' or a new 'mini-state' - see RNZ's Tuhoe eye long-term autonomy. However, Tuhoe specialist Paul Moon is reported as saying today that 'Tuhoe will eventually achieve something close to independence' - see TV3's Tuhoe to work closely with Crown post-settlement.

The nature of the Tuhoe deal is nicely summed up in the title (and content) of Yvonne Tahana's article, Huge sacrifices from both sides in elegant win-win solution. The 'elegant' element of the deal is that both sides have given up claims of ownership of the land. This fits in with the Prime Minister's claims 'about the things people couldn't own - wind, water, sunlight, and sea. Soon he might be able to add Te Urewera to that list as well'. Tahana has another important article about the deal: Tuhoe gets more say in giant park which further explains the non-ownership concept, and how the deal will trigger further Crown payouts to Tainui and Ngai Tahu.

There is likely to be widespread acceptance and praise for the deal throughout the political system. So far the Maori Party is welcoming the deal and emphasising how much of a compromise it is for Tuhoe, while Labour is putting a stress on the need for free public access to be maintained - see RNZ's Maori Party says settlement a compromise for Tuhoe. There will be some continued concerns about the nature of the new governance of the park, and whether there will eventually be reduced access or significant fees charged. As Tracy Watkins reports, 'The deal promises continued public access, and Mr Kruger said Tuhoe's preference was not to charge visitors' - see: Tuhoe deal puts bitter grievances to rest. Watkins' piece provides a good background to the history of the grievance.


A week after the decision to delay the asset sales it seems opinion has hardened into the view that it is real blow to the Government, and that it was a decision forced by legal reasons. The Government's reputation as competent is at stake says Audrey Young in Reputations on line over water issue. In her weekend column, Young says that while National's plan doesn't include 'a strategy of divide and rule', a legal halt to the sales would be 'the ultimate flashpoint' which would probably force Key to an early election. She thinks the process has marginalised Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, who has been 'somewhat sidelined in the process, having gone from a brokering role between the Maori Council and the Iwi Leaders Group to more of bystander'. And Sharples only has himself to blame says Morgan Godfery in his post, Shame on the Maori Party. He also asks the question, 'why would the Maori Party say that they "don't see the point" in attending the Kingitanga's national hui? Answer: incompetence.'

A Herald editorial looks at the delay to the asset sales, and says that it doesn't make sense to have a delay to discuss the 'shares plus' option with Maori when the Government has already described that as 'unworkable' - see: 'Too clever' risk in Govt shares plan. The score is Maori Council 1, John Key 0 according to the Dominion Post editorial, Nats lose a water right fight.

The delay is hurting National's re-election chances says Mark Blackham in National burns off core voters. He compares it to Helen Clark's decision to briefly hold back on the Foreshore and Seabed legislation in 2004, 'hoping that the summer recess would defuse the heat. She was wrong, Labour came back to increased controversy. Politicians love delay, but it only stalls the inevitable. The partial float delay is likely to give the public even more reasons to wish National had never thought of asset sales at all'.

The success of share floats in the new schedule is also being questioned, with Terry Hall speculating that 'the Government has missed the boat for the most advantageous time to get the best price for its 49 per cent stake', although there is till the possibility local conditions may actually improve over the next 6 months - see: Asset sale falters as NZ shares soar. Pattrick Smellie in the NBR is less optimistic: 'That probably means a smaller capital pool competing for the shares. It probably means an issue price lower than it has been sinking to anyway' - see:
It'll need to be one helluva loyalty scheme, John. In a later article Smellie asks whether it will be wise to go 'hell for leather' to sell three power companies before the election, even if Mighty River Power is sold next year - see: Uncertainty hits asset sale plans.

Associate Professor with the University of Auckland Business School Rhema Vaithianathan says the privatisation policy doesn't meet any of the standard economic justifications and 'Above all, economic literature simply does not consider paying off government debt as a sound reason to privatise. Privatisation simply transfers an asset from one class (SOE) to another (cash), and dollars earned from asset sales do not have a magic ability to cure debt - see: Complex machinations in asset sale decisions.

On the water claim itself it seems David Shearer's position, almost identical to John Key's, has changed quite a bit since the 90s: 'While the academic Mr Shearer suggested a provision in environmental law to "recognise the specific cultural relationship between Maori and their use of water", the political Mr Shearer says it's not needed now' - see Patrick Gower's Shearer departs from water rights thesis. Cameron Slater has uploaded Shearer's academic thesis - which you can read here.

There appears to be genuine confusion as to whether a Ngapuhi treaty claim is serious or just 'hot air'. Yvonne Tahana's report tends to indicate it is more about David Rankin scoring some political points about the water claim - see: Treaty wind claim seems full of hot air.

But on TVNZ, Rankin seemed more serious, saying the claim was like 'taking out insurance' when it was pointed out there were no commercial wind farms currently in Northland - see: Maori claim for wind rights 'insurance' - Rankin. Serious or not there seems little support for the idea outside of Ngapuhi so far and condemnation across the political spectrum with National, Act and the Greens all criticising the basis and timing as unfounded, unhelpful and divisive - see, for example, TVNZ's Maori wind claim will 'increase separatism'. For a much more substantial challenge to the contemporary claims of iwi, see Elizabeth Rata's An Argument against Iwi Claims to Constitutional Recognition and Public Resources.


Other important or interesting political items today include:
* The Press is keeping the debate over the cancellation of Environment Canterbury elections going with the publication of Chris Trotter's latest column on the issue: Canterbury democracy hammered. Trotter warns Cantabrians about the language being used to justify the decision: "'Governance' is all about delivering the outcomes that 'government' cannot deliver. The outcomes that unfairly benefit minorities and/or vested interests'.

* Although amalgamation of ECan and the Christchurch Council has been denied as a reason for the election delay by Local Government Minister David Carter, the Timaru Herald Editorial is not convinced: 'Remember, this was the same Government that said ECan elections would be held no later than next year - see: Something's afoot. The Government's enthusiasm for usurping locally elected politicians extends to the health sector according to a Waikato Times editorial, Disdain for elected bodies.

* Even if Tau Henare doesn't get National's vote for him to be the next Speaker he could possibly win if the Opposition united behind him and the Maori Party decided the issue was not one it had to support National on writes Kaine Thompson in Speaking of Speakers.

* The limited targets already set are a good start but we need hard measures of child poverty and targets set for improvement writes Jonathan Boston in Bold targets needed to curb child poverty.

* 'Cheer up you miserable bastards' is essentially Bob Jones' advice to economists and economic commentators (although he thinks John Minto is a lost cause) - see: Why the dismal science so often gets it wrong.

* Public hysteria has got out of all proportion to the supposed threats and transgressions with 'all the sophistication of the lynch mob' writes Richard Swainson in Unforgiving nation vents fury on the Beast and Burstyn.

* Proposed changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme will see taxpayers indefinitely subsiding ninety-five percent of big polluters' emissions says Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment - see: ETS changes a farce - Environment Commissioner.

* Finally, the Beehive has been 'the venue for some of the weirdest moments in New Zealand's political history' writes Tom Hunt in Beehive bent offices and minds.