One of the more important court cases to be held in New
Zealand's recent history is set to start at the end of this
month. At that time, the Maori Council-led bid to block the
sale of Mighty River Power next year over Maori rights and
interests in water will be determined.
This action by the Maori Council was well signalled and,
despite the protestations from sale opponents, the sale issue
was always going to end in court.
However, the Government has badly managed the process that
was so close to its heart at the last election and that bad
management is now being reflected in the loss of public
support for both Prime Minister John Key and the National
Party in general.
Labour is polling nowhere enough to be confident of forming a
government any time soon.
But the important thing for Mr Key, and National, is to take
note of the declining support and analyse whether people are
losing faith in the proposed sale of three state-owned
enterprises before the 2014 election.
There is a growing school of thought that the mishandling of
this important sale process - important because it was
National's main policy plank at the last election - along
with fumbles around privacy issues for Work and Income and
ACC clients, is causing some of the sheen to fade from Mr
National wasted its first three years in office by not making
hard decisions, presumably on the pretence that it could then
get another three years on the Treasury benches.
The sale of assets was always going to be on the agenda after
Finance Minister Bill English was overheard musing about the
sale of KiwiBank.
So, how could the process be handled better?
Government advisers should have realised that the process to
sell electricity generators was always going to cause some
difficulties with Maori. By wasting time not working through
possible legal outcomes, the Government's prime policy has
had to be delayed by more than a year. That will leave it
little time in a heated political forum to prove there are
benefits in publicly floating up to 49% of the assets and
using the money for the overall good of the community.
Opponents of the sale have had extended periods to firm up
their cases to put before a court.
Last month, Governor-General Lieutenant-general Sir Jerry
Mateparae was to have signed the order that would have
removed Mighty River Power from the State-owned Enterprises
Act and put it under the Mixed Ownership Model legislation,
allowing the sale of up to 49% of its shares. However,
following a short hearing in the High Court at Wellington,
Justice Ronald Young set a tentative date of November 26 for
the Maori Council's case to be heard.
Justice Young indicated he was concerned the council's case
would be prejudiced if it was heard after the
order-in-council took effect.
Maori Council spokeswoman and former Maori Party MP Rahui
Katene said the Cabinet decision not to proceed with the
order-in-council and the setting of a court date was a
Going to court was a last resort for the council, which had
always sought negotiations with the Crown over the water
The Maori Council is not eligible for legal aid and iwi will
need to pay for legal representation.
The Government paid only lip service to its so-called
consultation process with iwi after the threat of legal
action became apparent. It remained confident its attempts at
consultation would put it into a good light when the case
inevitably reached court. It became obvious the consultation
was a form of political expediency, driven by the need to
force the case to court quickly.
Mr Key has warned that people should brace themselves for a
protracted court process over the sale of the state-owned
enterprise shares. He imagined it would move on from the High
Court to the Court of Appeal, and potentially the Supreme
Failure to recognise all of those possibilities at an earlier
stage of the process is set to cost the Government money and