Maori groups work on asset sale appeal

Maori trying to stop partial privatisation of state-owned assets until freshwater rights are settled say they are working on an appeal and will file it as soon as they can.

In a ruling released on Tuesday, the High Court rejected a legal challenge to the Government's partial sale of state-owned assets from the Maori Council and a grouping of Waikato sub-tribes, Pouakani.

Justice Ronald Young said he was satisfied there was no link between the sale of shares in Mighty River Power and the need to provide for Maori claims to water.

Finance Minister Bill English has welcomed the decision, saying it confirms the Government can go ahead with the partial sale of four state-owned energy companies. State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall says the Government remains on target to float part of Mighty River in the first half of next year.

The Maori Council and co-claimants plan to appeal against the ruling.

Both parties have raised the possibility of bypassing the Court of Appeal and going straight to the Supreme Court, because of pressure of time.

Maori Council lawyer Felix Geiringer says this is being considered, though he notes that appellants need leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, whereas they can go to the Court of Appeal as of right.

Pouakani spokesperson Tamati Cairns says the grouping of sub-tribes is prepared to spend more money and time seeking rights to freshwater.

"We have to make time and we have to find money because it's that important. We need to progress very quickly."

Delay partial asset sales, says Labour

The Labour Party says Government should delay plans for the partial sell-off of state-owned assets despite the ruling in its favour, as too much uncertainty remains, and it should carry out formal consultation.

Labour MP Shane Jones told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme that the Government is charging ahead even though the judge himself said he was a bus stop on the way to the ultimate destination.

"The bottom line is the Government's hell-bent on selling these assets and I've no doubt much of it will end up in foreign hands, as Fonterra is slowly and surely heading in that direction. The model is quite clear."

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says iwi have a different views on water rights and the Government should negotiate with each one.

In his ruling Justice Young said iwi and hapu are frustrated at being unable to negotiate with the Crown over water. He said it was a great sadness that many claims have not been heard or resolved and urged the Government to urgently address the claims.

But he acknowledged that the Crown has made efforts to deal with water use through the Iwi Leaders Group on Freshwater.

Next story in National: NZ Cricket apologises to Taylor