The latest Treaty tiff – a lesson in how to make Govt’s energy company shares look coldly uninviting

This is nice bit of brouhaha we have got ourselves into.

Whoa. Make that a nice bit of brouhaha The Boss and his cabinet colleagues have got us into, because Alf had nothing to do with it.

He was at home in Eketahuna at the time.

If he was summoned to Wellington to help sort things out, he would tell the Maori Party where to get off in language of the sort that is apt to upset Mrs Grumble, if she hears it used.

But he is somewhat lacking in the tact department and The Boss, who is much more conciliatory towards Pita Sharples, Tariana Turia and their gang, no doubt has his reasons for trying to remain on good terms.

But hey – there’s got to be a limit to the concession business.

And we will have gone over the bounds of good sense, surely, if the buyers of shares in our SOEs find their investments have Treaty commitments attached.

Alf refers, of course, to Maori Party threats that it could walk out on National over the removal of a Treaty clause in state asset sales plans.

Prime Minister John Key has been trying to mollify the Maori Party’s members.

But it’s hard yacker.

Dunno what the bloody Treaty clause is doing in the legislation, come to think of it, but it was stuck in there on Geoffrey Palmer’s watch, and let’s not forget that Geoffrey could be a bit of a tosser on these matters in much the same way as Chris Finlayson has become a hand-wringing tosser when dealing with Maori.

Anyway, the folks in the Beehive have become somewhat antsy after –

Co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples yesterday said they would consider walking out on their deal with National if a clause which protected Treaty of Waitangi principles was not extended to new legislation that will cover partial state asset sales.

The Herald explains today that the Government will release a consultation document on the issue today before a series of hui next week on our wonderful plans to sell minority stakes in four energy companies.

But this bloody Treaty clause has become a sticking point when it comes to maintaining good relations with Pita and his mob.

The clause is section nine of the State Owned Enterprises Act and requires the Crown not to act in a manner inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

So what principles are they, exactly?

Alf has never been satisfied on this point.

Regardless of the vagueness of it all, The Boss seems keen to sort things out to the satisfaction of our Maori Party mates.

After the Maori Party co-leaders’ comments, Mr Key said he was confident a solution would be reached but section nine could not be part of the new legislation.

“I’m extremely confident that the Maori Party will remain part of the Government over the course of the next three years …
but we can’t carry on with a very general clause under the mixed-ownership model. It just doesn’t work.”

Alf wants to know how the bloody thing works now, under the SOE model.

For his part, The Boss says (a) the Government is committed to meeting its Treaty obligations but (b) it can not impose Treaty obligations on private-sector shareholders in the mixed-ownership companies.

Again, Alf asks what exactly are these obligations?

The Boss has mused on the possibility of a more specific clause being used which would make it clear that private shareholders are not bound.

He said section nine was “largely symbolic” and the Government could not find a single instance in which it had been used since it entered the law in 1986.

A more specific clause it not a bad idea, at first blush.

Alf certainly won’t be buying any of the shares if some namby-pamby wishy-washy Treaty commitments and obligations are attached to them.

But sure enough, Pita is playing hardball on this.

Dr Sharples rejected the prospect of a narrower clause. It was important to retain the wording of section nine because it was all-encompassing and covered water and other natural resources which Maori were negotiating with the Government over.

“Unless the Treaty clause is kept in there to protect and keep that interest there, then we are going to be up the lake without a paddle.

“If it is taken out or reduced to a more particular clause and not left to apply generally, then it weakens the power of that Treaty clause and it will not give us the protection required.”

This carry-on gets Alf’s dander up, and is exacerbated by that stuff about negotiations over water and other natural resources.

What’s to negotiate?

Tariana is as stroppy as Pita, so we can’t try to divide and rule.

She said –

“If they remove section nine there will be no reason for them to consult with Maori over these issues so they will actually be denying that the Treaty exists and we are not prepared to accept that. We have to be vigilant and if it comes down to the wire, the Maori Party will have to consider its position with the Government.”

Oh, bliss.

If removing section nine means there will be no reason for us to consult with Maori over these issue and if it further means we will be denying that the Treaty exists…

Well, in those circumstances Alf would be just a teeny bit tempted to become as huffy as Pita and Tariana, but on the other side of the argument, and insist the clause must go or he will resign.

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