The Maori Council won the first round before the Waitangi Tribunal. The Government won the second and third in the courts.
The Supreme Court's rejection this week of the council's bid to stop the partial privatisation of state electricity generator Mighty River Power represents a resounding victory for the Government.
The court ruled unanimously in the Crown's favour on four of the five questions before it. Its fifth ruling – that the courts have the power to consider whether the proposed sale breaches the Crown's Treaty of Waitangi obligations – has no practical effect in this case. The court ruled the Crown has not breached the Treaty. However, the ruling could become an important legal marker.
The Government now has the authority to sell a 49 per cent share in the power company. To those who say the public are opposed to the process, Prime Minister John Key and his ministers can offer a simple rejoinder: "We said we were going to do it before the last election; if you really didn't like it you shouldn't have elected us."
It's a difficult argument to counter and the referendum the Green Party and Labour are promoting will change nothing. Nor should it. Whatever the pros and cons of selling state assets, governments are elected to govern. If governments were only able to do things that had popular support at the time they were done, New Zealand might never have given women the vote, decriminalised homosexuality or made the wearing of seatbelts compulsory.
It's very hard to argue with those last two paragraphs. The John Key-led Government has been absolutely transparent on the issue of asset sales. There were to be none in the first term, and there weren't, and Key would take the issue to the country as he did at the 2011 General Election. He did, he was able to form a government, and he was able to pass the requisite legislation; that's how our democracy works.