The Herald has devoted its editorial this morning to John Key and matters Maori. Under the heading Bad time for PM to shoot from the lip, the editorial begins thus:
The Prime Minister can be candid to a fault on occasions. He did not need to point out on Monday that the Government could ignore whatever the Waitangi Tribunal might say about the partial sale of power companies just as the tribunal was about to begin hearings on the subject that day. It is well known the tribunal's conclusions are non-binding, but it deserves more respect.
Now of couse, everyone has extended the Prime Minister's reminder that Waitangi Tribunal decisions are non-binding to an emphatic statement that the Government will ignore the Tribunal's decision. To the best of our knowledge, no-one from John Key's ministry has said that.
The editorial continues:
Mr Key, when asked the question, could as easily have said the Government was confident its plans would stand up to scrutiny under legal interpretations of the Treaty. He had reason to be confident.A few months ago he agreed at the insistence of the Maori Party that the partially privatised companies would continue to be subject to section 9 of the State-owned Enterprises Act that says they must not act in a manner inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.That would seem to safeguard any customary or Treaty rights to the use of land, water or other resources that have also been available for electricity generation. Those rights will apply regardless of who owns the generating assets, which does not include ownership of the water.The legally accepted principles of the Treaty were largely laid down by the late Lord Cooke in a case brought by the Maori Council in 1987. The Treaty, he concluded, rested on the premise that each party would act reasonably and in good faith towards the other "within their respective spheres". The Treaty safeguarded Maori rights to land, forests, fisheries and treasures, and gave the Crown the right to govern New Zealand.The tribunal might need to decide whether the sale of an asset built by the Crown is an action that falls within the rights of government or removes the asset from that "sphere". It is hard to see how the tribunal could find a government had no right to transfer an asset wholly or partly into the private sector if the government considers the transfer to be in the public interest. That is a decision a government of a mixed economy must have the right to make.But Mr Key has not helped his case, and made the tribunal's task harder, with his careless comment. The tribunal cannot let the remark influence its thinking, though it cannot help its decision, whatever way it goes, being seen as a reaction to the Prime Minister's dismissive attitude to the case.
We disagree with the conclusion that the editorial has drawn. The Prime Minister has said nothing that is factually incorrect or politically destabilising by pointing out that Waitangi Tribunal decisions are not binding on this government or any past or future one.
That certain people have leapt to this conclusion is far more about the asset sales debate than it is about the decision of the Waitangi Tribunal on the claim by the Maori Council, hapu and iwi. It is, in our always-humble opinion, simply another last-ditch attempt to re-litigate last years General Election which gave National the opportunity to form a government, and to progress the legislative agenda it had campaigned on.
UPDATE: Over at WhaleOil, Cameron Slater provides a quote that shows that National is not the only government this century to have considered pushing on with its agenda in spite of the Waitangi Tribunal. So much for the faux outrage from David Shearer and his Labour Party colleagues!