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Michael Coote

Just say no!

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“Just say no,” was a famous catch phrase sponsored by former US presidential first lady Nancy Reagan to persuade American children not to engage in violence, premarital sex, and illicit drug abuse.

We could well revive that campaign here in New Zealand, but applied to the government’s response to Maori tribal demands for water rights and ownership in the lead up to partial privatisation of mining and energy state-owned enterprises.

Prime minister John Key has in fact already said no by stating that his government would ignore any Waitangi Tribunal recommendation in favour of Maori tribal water claims that would derail the SOE sell down.

Unfortunately for Mr Key, he has been undermined in the integrity of his stance by finance minister Bill English.

In response to the legal challenge threatened to the partial privatisation of Mighty River Power by Ngati Tuwharetoa, Mr English cynically promised a danegeld, saying, “As you get down the track there will be some kind of settlement which generally involves some cash, or involves the transfer of some Crown assets to them.”

Accordingly the Waitangi Tribunal hearings amount to a phoney war, given that the finance minister has already betrayed the government’s intention to bribe the likes of Ngati Tuwharetoa with the transfer of money and possessions belonging to New Zealand’s citizens and taxpayers.

As if Mr English’s dirty business wasn’t enough to have to excuse, Mr Key has also been subjected to political pressure by various elements outside his government.

An example is Mai Chen of Treaty industry law firm Chen Palmer, who went on record to state, “Respect and good faith requires in substance and in appearance that the Government will consider any tribunal recommendations with an open mind.”

One wonders where Ms Chen’s sage counsel was when back in May 2003 then prime minister Helen Clark did what Mr Key has incurred so much criticism for.

Before the Waitangi Tribunal had even had the opportunity to publish its decision on a South Taranaki Maori claim to nationalised oil and gas fields, Ms Clark killed the prospect of the claim succeeding.

“Once you open the door to one, you open the door to all and our consideration is that it isn’t a Treaty breach,” said Ms Clark, who wasn’t pilloried for her pre-emptive strike the way My Key has been.

Ms Clark’s example has in fact been followed by Mr Key and his minions.

Two examples are nationalised minerals and Urewera National Park.

Nationalised minerals include gold, silver, uranium and petroleum.

In June 2010, fronting for what would become the Maori tribal appeasement legislation of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011, Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson had the following to say in parliamentary question time:

“Those who have a [Maori] customary title will be able to own the non-nationalised minerals within their areas of recognised customary title.”

“This applies to all minerals except gold, silver, uranium, and petroleum.”

“Petroleum, of course, was nationalised by the first Labour Government in 1937; Labour is very good at doing that sort of thing.”

In April 2010, Mr Finlayson told TV3’s Duncan Garner, “Well there are two classes of minerals I think we have to talk about, because pre 2004 petroleum had been nationalised, in fact was nationalised by the Labour government in 1937, silver and gold and uranium have always been nationalised minerals … Oh I think the so-called traditional reserved ones, Gerry [Brownlee]’s already said are off the table …”

In other words, just like the Labour government of Ms Clark, the National government of Mr Key has never had a problem with just saying no to Maori over Treaty claims to nationalised minerals, a point which serves to underscore how parliamentary sovereignty trumps Maori compensation demands provided the government of the day keeps its nerve and acts in the wider interests of all New Zealanders.

Then there was the near miss with the Urewera National Park, which Mr Finlayson is reported to have been on the brink of giving to Tuhoe.

In May 2010, after getting an earful from a National Party conference about pandering to Maori, Mr Key personally torpedoed the handover of the national park and called the idea “unacceptable to the Government.”

Just saying no to a national park being used as a Treaty settlement, Mr Key said, “It’s fair to say that the proposal from Tuhoe’s negotiating team falls outside of the broad principles that have operated for other Treaty negotiations.”

“A lot of Treaty settlements have unique provisions, but in my view it would have been quite a significant step away from the broad principles under which we normally negotiate a Treaty settlement.”

Appeasing Maori is thus unnecessary, despite the Key government falling into that trap before in trying to buy Maori Party support for future MMP elections.