27 Feb 2013

Court rules in favour of Mighty River share sale

10:36 pm on 27 February 2013

The Supreme Court has dismissed the Maori Council's bid to stop the Government partially selling some state assets.

Earlier in February, the council went to New Zealand's highest court seeking to overturn an earlier High Court decision which found that there was no connection between the sale of shares in Mighty River Power and the need to address Maori claims to water.

In a decision released on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the proposed sale of shares is able to be reviewed by the courts to ensure that it is consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

However, the court said there are several reasons why any share sale would not materially impair the Crown's ability to compensate any Treaty breaches.

It said that includes the Crown's acknowledgement that Maori have interests and rights in relation to particular waters, and the Crown's retention of the means to remedy any Treaty breaches.

The Supreme Court said the Maori Council had one success in the case - in the court's finding that the Crown was bound to comply with Treaty principles before deciding to sell shares.

The Government welcomed the Supreme Court's decision in favour of the Crown.

State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme there may well be further court action on the partial asset sales programme, but Wednesday's decision has set a precedent.

"I don't think that you could ever rule out that someone else would want to have a go, because people can go to court and we've always said that's part of what we expect along the way.

"But I would've thought that this would become a precedent for many that courts actually set out the principles that we need to follow and has found in the Crown's favour on this."

Finance Minister Bill English said the Cabinet would consider a timetable and other details of the Mighty River offer on Monday and would confirm those details soon after, including how New Zealanders will be at the front of the queue for shares.

The Maori Council believes the decision is a positive step toward recognising iwi rights to water. It said the Supreme Court made it clear that Maori interests in water are important and rejected trite statements from the Government that no one owns water.

The council's lawyer, Donna Hall, told Checkpoint it considers the Supreme Court's ruling a victory.

"It has done Maori a great favour in our view by noting the extensive promises that have been made by the Crown through the course of these proceedings to the effect that it will take real steps to address the various Maori water claims."

The council said it planned to hold the Crown to promises it has made over the course of the case regarding water claims.