LATEST: The Tribunal’s recommendation for the Government to halt plans to sell shares in energy companies indicates “Maori proprietary interests to water resources is a serious issue”.
The comment was made by Maori Council lawyer Donna Hall who is “very happy” with the decision.
The Waitangi Tribunal has suggested the Government hold off on selling shares in state-owned energy companies until the issue of water rights is resolved.
Hall noted that the announcement was an interim one and there was no guarantee of further recommendations for delay in September.
The Maori Council initially lodged a claim with the Tribunal claiming Maori had ownership rights over water and called for planned partial asset sales to be stopped until they could argue the matter.
The Tribunal said today that the sale of shares under the Mixed Ownership Model could cause significant disadvantage to the Maori Council, and supporting hapu, if their claims were found to have merit.
However, delaying the public offering could have significant implications for the Crown who had stressed the complicated and detailed work in preparing such a share float.
“They have also submitted that the sale of shares in the power-generating Mixed Ownership Model companies is a major policy initiative of the current government.”
In it’s report on Wai2358, the Tribunal said that for these reasons they preferred the “maintenance of the status quo”.
This meant the Crown would continue to own the companies until Maori claims to water ownership had been resolved.
“We therefore conclude that the Crown ought not to commence the sale of shares in any of the Mixed Ownership Model companies until we have had the opportunity to complete our report on stage one of this inquiry and the Crown has had the opportunity to give this report, and any recommendations it contains, in-depth and considered examination.”
However, the report said that was an “interim direction” rather than the full recommendations sought by the claimants.
The Tribunal was not able to make such a recommendation before deciding whether the claim was well-founded under the Treaty of Waitangi Act.
They release a report of the first stage of the hearing in September.
An urgent hearing of the Tribunal ran for two weeks in Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt earlier this month.
“Given Treaty rights of a proprietary nature have been found to exist in specific freshwater bodies in previous Tribunal reports; the Crown has acknowledged that Maori do have rights in fresh water generally; and New Zealand’s Court of Appeal has left open to question the nature and extent of such rights and interests; these issues warrant serious inquiry,” the report today summarised.
The question of Maori ownership was “not an implausible one” and if the Crown altered its ownership of freshwater resources it may limit their ability for redress.
“Putting it another way, they are serious issues to be inquired into.”
The Crown had said it could buy back shares in the mixed ownership model, but that was only a partial factor, the report said.
“As the shares, once sold, can only be repurchased from a willing seller and may require a prohibitively expensive outlay.”
Or the Government would have to pass legislation compulsorily returning the shares to Crown ownership.
“The sale of shares in Mixed Ownership Model companies could therefore cause a significant disadvantage to the claimants, were their claims to be determined to be well founded by the Tribunal.”