Prime Minister John Key has denied National’s relationship with the Maori Party is under threat and says he is happy to meet with its leaders, just not this week.
Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples slammed Mr Key after he said a Waitangi Tribunal claim over water ownership was just about money and Government could ignore its recommendations.
Opposition parties have called on the Maori Party to stand by its principles and walk away from its confidence and supply agreement with National.
But Dr Sharples said the party would take no such action, because the party wanted to remain “at the table” with Mr Key.
Mrs Turia has said publicly she wants to meet with Mr Key over the issue.
The two have yet to talk but Mr Key said he was happy to do so when his schedule allowed.
“Obviously we’re more than happy to talk to them. My phone is always on. Always happy to receive a call from them.”
His travel schedule would not allow a face-to-face visit until next week.
In Christchurch this morning, Mr Key batted away suggestions the relationship was strained.
“We have good debates, there are many areas where we don’t agree.”
He stood by his statements and said he would not say anything to the co-leaders that he hadn’t said publicly.
“My position is rock solid and it’s not about to change. In my view no one owns water.”
He said never suggested Government would ignore the Tribunal’s recommendations and it was a statement of fact that they were not binding.
The Government will “eagerly await” the ruling.
“There’s nothing new in my statements… it’s just a statement of the position.”
He disputed that his comments were intended to incite anger towards Maori.
New Zealanders expected the prime minister to state his or her position, Mr Key said.
He also hoped the matter would not delay the sale of state owned energy companies.
“I can’t for the life of me see why the sale of shares in Mighty River power would have any impact on the issue of water.
“It’s irrelevant what the ownership makeup of that company is in relation to the arguably disputed issue of water ownership.”
He would not comment on whether it would impact the share price.
WATER FIGHT SEEN AS THREAT TO ASSET SALES
Failure to resolve who owns water could see the float of state-owned energy companies flop, experts say.
Despite an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing to consider an injunction on the partial selloff and what rights Maori have to water resources under the Treaty, the Government has indicated that its privatisation plans will go ahead.
But experts yesterday told the tribunal that carrying on with the sale could seriously affect the prices.
Australian financial markets expert Philip Galloway said water resources were closely linked to the companies, through their reliance on hydro-generated electricity. “As an investor I would look at the company and say, ‘well, what is it?’ and it’s a user of water resources and that is the fundamental thing that it does and you very quickly drill down and say, ‘well, who owns those resources’?”
It would be hard to remedy questions of ownership after 49 per cent of the company was sold off, he said.
Mr Galloway identified three options for compensation if Maori were found to have ownership rights: royalty payments, share allocation, or which new legislation would create a proprietary interest.
Energy expert Brian Cox said the question over Maori ownership would create uncertainty and drive down the share price.
“The more uncertainty you have with regard to sale of the assets, then the lower the price will be for the Crown … buying electricity companies there’s always a lot of uncertainty, but the more uncertainty in there the lower the price.”
If Maori water rights were recognised, it would not negatively impact on the sale, he said.
The impact on companies using water would be similar to that of the emissions trading scheme.
Uncertainty could also lead to reduced investment in the electricity sector.
Both men agreed the issue of Maori ownership claims had to be included in the companies’ prospectuses if the matter was not settled before then.