Water is a subject we will hear so much more about in the next few months as we watch an interesting and complex case played out in the Waitangi Tribunal.
This, we think, is but stage 1 .
In New Zealand we have competing processes happening. A very unpopular move to sell state owned assets has meant the bringing forward of a claim by the Maori Council testing the “ownership” of the water in the Waikato which forms part of the Mighty River Assets which are about to be sold.
Testing the “ownership “ is going to be interesting . The Maori concept may be very different in terms of guardianship and may not mean exclusive ownership in the same way as the European concept does, but once those assets are effectively privatised the idea that “nobody owns the water “ may well be proved very wrong in either concept.
So as the Maori Council argues their case in the Waitangi Tribunal , we can be sure that the case will not end there. If they win the case to delay asset sales, then a sale by the government may only be achieved at the expense of legislation that overrules the legal rights. If they don’t win, they will very likely appeal . Either way the case will not be over and done with any time soon.
The 12 co-claimants are those who have yet settle their Treaty grievances. There are some interesting tensions between those who have yet to settle and those who already have settled, some of whom have become significant corporates in their own right . Those who have settled would much prefer to deal with the Government directly and not through the courts.
Some of these tensions also centre on water rights and land claims and some date back a very long time .If you look at the issue through that lense then the Government’s announcement of the sale of shares in Mighty River is incendiary to say the least.
And if the assets are sold, then the status of water has clearly changed, and wouldn’t the settlement of those long –held claims then demand shares in those assets.
Either way we don’t think it was sensible . It paints him into a corner and its hard to find the door. The political problem is that in terms of his core constituency who like to institute what they see as the National agenda the partial privatisation is bread and butter stuff. For most New Zealanders however it hits a nerve that politicians should avoid at all costs. There’s not that much that gets us going , but some issues will just do it.
The economic problem is perhaps as serious. The budget attributes $5 billion to $7 billion in income from these shares .And there is an even bigger economic hurdle .When directors write an Information Memorandum and Prospectus they must include all possible risks and in one this size they will need to quantify that risk as much as possible . So, although few of us ever read the prospectus fully when we buy shares, we have seen recent cases in New Zealand that will surely make directors very, very cautious in terms of the information they state and in terms of any omissions as well.
This case may well be more effective in delaying the court case than the Citizen Initiated referendum . All that needs to happen along the way is that one of the Government supporters gets knocked over by some issue and in politics in NZ those things seem to come frequently .