By Willie Jackson
No-one owns the water.
Well that's the line that John Key is running in response to the New Zealand Maori Council's decision to challenge the Government's plan to sell off state assets.
The Waitangi Tribunal has been hearing an urgent claim by the council over the Government's plan to sell off 49 per cent of shares that the public owns in power generating companies.
The council, which represents Maori tribes and organisations throughout the country, says: "The sale of power companies raises issues of ownership and management of fresh water and other natural resources which are still under discussion between iwi and the Crown."
The council wants those discussions completed before the Government sells off those assets.
The action being taken by the Maori Council is reminiscent of its challenge against the Labour Government in 1987.
Then the Government was selling off railways, forestry, coal, radio frequencies, fisheries and broadcasting assets which included land that was subject to Treaty claims.
The council was concerned that the tribunal would not be able to hear those claims if the assets had already been sold to private interests.
It argued that the Government was subject to section 9 of the State Owned Enterprises Act which stated that "nothing in this act permits the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty".
The Appeal Court found in favour of the council and ruled that it would be inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty to transfer Crown assets without establishing a system to protect and promote those principles.
This current round of asset sales raises the same issues.
One of the submitters at this week's hearing summed it up perfectly when he said: "Te Arawa tribe had accepted the right of the Crown to use its water for the good of the nation.
"But when it seeks to use the water 51 per cent for the nation and 49 per cent for others, we disagree."
Mr Key's stance that no-one owns the water and the Government doesn't have to listen to the tribunal is deliberately pitched at the ignorant masses who think Maori are going to take over the country.
The Crown assumed ownership and management rights over water resources despite its acknowledgement of Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Maori Council's claim is about justice.
How can the Government sell off shares in assets when they haven't dealt with Maori interests?
And if no-one owns the water then what the heck are they doing selling it off?
The tribunal said in 1996 that Maori have proprietary rights that are akin to ownership so it added to the 1987 Court of Appeal decision.
Mr Key should be concerned about the council's claim.
Auckland Now, 13th July 2012