Crown wins water case

Tony Ryall
Tony Ryall
The High Court has ruled against the Maori Council's bid to delay the partial privatisation of Mighty River Power.

Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall welcomed the High Court's decision, saying it vindicated their view "that the partial sale of shares does not in any way affect the Crown's ability to recognise rights and interests in water, or to provide redress for genuine Treaty claims".

The Maori Council had argued that the Government should establish the extent of Maori ownership rights over freshwater and geothermal resources and make redress for them before the partial sale of Mighty River and other power companies under the Government's "mixed ownership model".

Mr Ryall said the Government's share offer programme remained on track.

"If the High Court decision is appealed, we hope this can be heard as soon as possible."

Maori Council spokeswoman Rahui Katene said the council was considering Justice Ronald Young's decision.

"The matter has been determined on a narrow legal issue. The moral issue has still be to addressed in public debate."

Ms Katene said Justice Young had taken the view that the Government's decision was not one the courts could review.

"The Council's concern is that government has not been willing to address the issue of indigenous water rights, as the Court itself noted, and has relied upon statutory technicalities; but in this instance we think that the view taken about the statutory framework does not fit with previous court decisions and we are now working on an appeal."

In the summary of his judgement, Justice Young said he was satisfied that three key decisions by the Government to advance its asset sales programme, which were challenged by the council, were not reviewable by the court.

Those decisions included the order-in-council or move to take Mighty River Power out from under the State Owned Enterprises Act and into the Public Finance Act to allow the sale.

However Justice Young said even if he was wrong on those points, the council's case would have failed because when making each of those decisions the Government would not have been acting inconsistently with the Treaty of Waitangi.

He also said he was satisfied there was no connection or "nexus" between the sale of power company shares "and the need to provide for Maori claims to proprietary interest in water by way of potential redress or recognition of rights''.

- By Adam Bennett

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