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Dr Muriel Newman

Power, Water, Spectrum, and Fish

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In 1999, the National government sold the state owned electricity generator Contact Energy, which owned hydro, geothermal and gas-fired power stations in the North and South Island, including the Clyde Dam, in a public share offering. At that time, there were no calls for the tribal ownership of water, no claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, no special deals for iwi. Over 220,000 investors bought shares and life went on.

How different it is today.

This week the Maori Council’s hearing over the ownership of water will get underway in the Wellington High Court. Prime Minister John Key expects that even if the government wins the High Court case, the Maori Council will appeal to the Court of Appeal, and if necessary to the Supreme Court. Their plan is to delay government’s partial privatisation of Mighty River Power as long as they can in order to extract shares, rights and other forms of appeasement.

The cost of this drawn-out legal battle is likely to be significant and as with all Treaty-related expenditure, much of the cost will fall on taxpayers. Already, the Maori Council’s water claim has cost $1.24 million – the cost of the Waitangi Tribunal is $190,897, legal aid for the claimants $323,341, Crown lawyers $670,686, and consultation over the “Shares Plus” option another $55,000.1

Clearly, not everyone agrees with the government’s asset sales programme, but the National Party did win the 2011 general election with that policy at the forefront of its manifesto. The Prime Minister wanted to gain an unambiguous mandate from the public for proceeding with their asset sales programme, and the fact that National won the election and were able to form a government has, in his mind, given them that mandate.

There is no doubt that the Maori Council’s opportunistic claim is now compromising the sale process. Their interference is likely to result in a considerable loss of value of assets which will impact on every New Zealander.

It is important to point out that these opportunists who are claiming our water do not represent Maoridom as a whole. Many people of Maori ancestry are embarrassed by their grasping cargo-cult mentality. They are as sick of the arrogance and the division within New Zealand society that biculturalism is creating as most other New Zealanders. They want us all to work as one for the good of the country.

So why is it that a decade ago an electricity generator could be sold without claims for the ownership of water, whereas today, such claims are not only widespread, but they are treated seriously? The answer is that a party representing the Maori sovereignty movement is now a member of the National-led government.

In addition, as a result of on-going concessions and lavish appeasement policies, over the last four years Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson has created huge expectations amongst tribal groups that they can get whatever they want. In a recent column for the NZCPR, Professor Roger Bowden has calculated that from the base of an expected $1 billion fiscal cap, the total cost of settlements has exploded and is now anticipated to reach $5-6 billion, consuming the total anticipated return from the whole partial asset sale programme!

On top of that, National has agreed to the Maori Party’s constitutional review, a process by which they intend to replace New Zealand’s present constitutional arrangements with a new bicultural constitution enshrining the Treaty of Waitangi as supreme law. With the process already captured by biculturalists (thanks to Mr Finlayson and his National Party colleagues) the process to achieve the Maori Party’s aim of co-governance of New Zealand by the iwi elite is now underway. [If you share our concerns over these developments, please visit the Independent Constitutional Review website at ConstitutionalReview.org to find out more and support us]

With the sovereignty movement on a roll, opportunistic claims are coming in thick and fast. A claim for wind has already been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal and a new claim for the electromagnetic spectrum is underway. This claim more than anything else shows what suckers we are – how can it be that taxpayers’ money could possibly be given out for something that was not even imagined at the time the Treaty was signed in 1840?

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, freelance writer Michael Coote, in his article Treaty train rocks on to the radio waves suggests that the move for Maori tribal claims to privatise the ownership of natural resources or rights has gone “viral”. He explains:

“The water rights spat over legalised corruption demanded by Maori tribes wanting payoffs for use of rivers running through their patch of turf has leaked across to radio spectra now that it has become apparent that prime time for applying tribal standover tactics is when the government needs to meet self-imposed deadlines.

“The ‘digital dividend’ 4G-700MHz band radio spectrum is coming up for auction to mobile phone companies by the government’s deadline of first quarter 2013.

“Heartened by the water rights brouhaha, advocates of the Maori airwaves grab like Nga Kaiwhakapumau i Te Reoare are up in arms and convening a national hui to further their Waitangi Tribunal claim to own the radio spectra apparently commercially exploited by their technologically precocious neolithic ancestors prior to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

The point is that since the government intends forcing all television networks to go digital by December 1, 2013, the 4G radio spectrum will be available for commercial use. It is expected to be in high demand from telecommunications companies wanting to connect smartphones to cellular networks. Opportunistic tribes can see that ownership rights to 4G will be extremely lucrative!

As at 11 June 2009, the Waitangi Tribunal had 2,034 treaty-related claims registered. Most are historic grievances of mixed legitimacy that were lodged ahead of the September 2008 final cut-off date for historic Treaty claims.  Of the substantive historic tribal claims, the Office of Treaty Settlements reports that 35 historic claims have been settled, 18 are awaiting legislation, 15 have ‘agreements in principle’, and 9 are at the negotiation stage. And with regards to contemporary claims, as at January 2012, over 200 had been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal.2

These contemporary claims represent a real problem for New Zealand. As long as there is a Waitangi Tribunal claims process in existence to give legitimacy to fabricated claims, all other New Zealanders will be forced to pay the price – and the racial division will grow. And as long as the political class remains committed to appeasement, the country will remain vulnerable to further attempts to extract more. A case in point is a potential claim for compensation by iwi over a new fisheries bill that is in front of Parliament – let me explain.

New Zealand’s commercial fishing sector is worth upwards of $4 billion. It used to consist largely of an inshore fishery, with Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean, and Soviet vessels fishing beyond our 12 nautical mile Territorial Sea limit. The introduction of the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone in 1977 and the quota management system in 1986, led to the fishing industry becoming one of the country’s leading export industries, with more than 90 percent of the annual catch exported.

There are now over 1,500 commercial fishing vessels registered in New Zealand and 239 licensed fish receivers and processors. Some 2,200 individuals and companies own quota. Maori control over a third of the industry as a result of their Treaty of Waitangi settlement. In addition to quota and cash, they received a 50 percent share in New Zealand’s biggest fishing company, Sealord, and they receive 20 percent of any new species brought into the quota management system.

The problem is that rather than leasing boats and employing tribal members to catch and process their fish – something that most New Zealanders imagined would occur as a result of their generous Treaty settlement – they have instead used foreign charter vessels, with foreign workers to catch and process their fish. It has been estimated that 2,500 jobs would have been created if iwi had employed New Zealanders instead of using foreign fishermen. And while work in the fishing industry is not easy, the industry offers good opportunities and decent pay – a New Zealand Captain can earn over $200,000 a year, an engineer over $100,000, a cook $90,000, and crew members $50,000 to $80,000.

As a result of widespread allegations of slave labour and inhumane living conditions on foreign charter vessels, the government launched an inquiry last year. In addition to concerns about the fishing crew, there were also were concerns about the catch being processed in China using slave labour and without high food safety requirements – yet being sold into world markets as Produce of New Zealand to compete against New Zealand seafood caught and processed by New Zealanders under New Zealand’s high food hygiene standards.

As a result of their inquiry, the government has decided to phase out the use of foreign charter vessels by 2016. At that time, any foreign fishing vessel would be required to be reflagged to New Zealand, which means that they would be deemed to be a New Zealand ship and would need to comply with our domestic legislative and regulatory requirements. At present New Zealand is the only country in the developed world that allows foreign vessels to fish in our exclusive economic zone without being reflagged.

The phasing out of these foreign vessels to comply with New Zealand’s standards and laws should satisfy concerns already raised in the United States about slave labour and in the European Union about food hygiene – which might already be locking us out of important export markets.

While most of the industry is very supportive of the proposed changes, iwi are not! They claim these changes will make fishing uneconomic and may well demand compensation from the government for changing the law.

A Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) accompanying the Fisheries (Foreign Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, which is on Parliament’s Order Paper awaiting its first reading, states that the potential loss of export revenue as a result of reflagging foreign charter vessels is up to $300 million. It states that the economic impact of the changes may fall disproportionately on Maori and iwi quota holders.

But the RIS also states, “The Crown could also refer to the principle that settlements do not impinge on the Crown’s right to develop policy in response to contemporary issues. At this stage it is difficult to quantify this risk. Officials have consulted with a range of iwi leaders on the reflagging option to minimise the risk and have committed to investigating options to enable iwi to continue to maximise returns from their quota”.3

Whether iwi will attempt to claim compensation of up to $300 million remains to be seen.