Tuesday, 4 September 2012

You Forget Love

There's this idea being bandied about at the moment that five weeks of consultation will suffice, then assets sales may proceed.

I expect that anyone who has given this blog any more than a cursory glance will know my opinion of asset sales.  Nothing in recent days has changed my opinion.  I disagree with the idea that five weeks of consultation is enough, for two reasons.

Firstly, consultation is not enough.  Maori and the Crown are partners, according to the President of the Court of Appeal.  It is not partnership for the government to say "we intend to sell up to 49% of state owned power companies" and then proceed to sell up to 49% of state owned power companies.  Even listening to the responses, having said "we intend to sell etc.", and making changes based on the response received might not be enough; agreement needs to be reached.  If no agreement is reached on what is to be done, then nothing is to be done.  In short, consultation is not enough.  The government have, to some extent, recognised this.

Abraham Maslow is credited with the idea that:
"...if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
The inferences of violence and overkill are interesting and often referred to in commentaries on blogs I read (which maybe says more about blogs I read than anything else).  In this instance it is the suggestion of narrow and short-sighted vision; the inability to see what is apparent to others that I like.  Which leads to my second reason for disagreement.

The proponents of assets sales describe the dispute as being about water rights.  They describe water rights in financial terms and use this as a dog-whistle with a "greedy Maori" tune.  My understanding of pre-contact Maori culture is not strong enough for me to comment authoritatively (I'd like to ask martymars, but I'd also like to get this posted), so I'll go out on a limb and say that money wasn't that important.

Pre-contact, Maori were the only possible candidates for ownership of water.  By definition it cannot have been anyone else.  No subsequent government has nationalised water, hence John Key's early suggestion that "no one owns water".  Therefore water must be one of the taonga referred to in the Third Article, of which Maori retain the right to undisturbed possession.

The proponents of assets sales have a very black and white view of the world.  It is all made up of dollar-based assessments of value, and exchanges of anything are transacted in dollars.  So maybe it would be better to say their perspective is black and red, because it comes from a ledger.  Where I'm trying to get to is that the advocates for and supporters of the asset sales program tend to understand the issues before the Waitangi Tribunal as an issue of ownership and from a monetary perspective, whereas the only candidates for the ownership of water have developed their understanding of their relationship with water from a cultural background in which money barely featured.  That's quite a gap.

It is unfortunate that the government appears to be full of people who do not understand either that:

  • the water is not the government's to sell, or
  • the only people who could own the water view the issue of ownership quite differently to the way the government does.  That difference might be so great that saying that anyone "owns" water, in the sense the government speaks of when they talk of selling it, is at best misleading, and in all likelihood highly flawed.

Worse, it seems the government is being advised by an overly optimistic lawyer:
The Herald understands legal advice to ministers was that the Government odds of winning a court challenge by the Maori Council were about even. However, David Goddard, QC, also advised them that further consultation with affected iwi would demonstrate good faith that would be regarded favourably by the courts and significantly increase its chances of winning any subsequent litigation.
source: NZ Herald

I've previously pointed out that claims over water have been a long time coming (you've no idea how much I agonised over saying "in the pipeline").  The Waitangi Tribunal have only issued an interim finding, not a full report.  I can only think of two National Party MPs with the mental acuity to understand the issues that this government faces.  Neither are in parliament today, and one has discredited himself to the extent of being convicted of a range of crimes.  Maybe his brother, an MP in the current parliament, can help instead.

In summary, it is obvious that there is nothing of consequence that can be achieved in five weeks.  The gulf between the treaty partners is too vast.  Five years is an ambitious timeframe.  Anything less is an open invitation for trips to the Courts and ongoing appeals, injunctions and claims to the Waitangi Tribunal.  Worst case, though it is very unlikely, could see the government prosecuted in international courts.

It seems to me that the government has failed to line its ducks up, and will be forced to add further delays to the sale of water-related state assets.  Whether they bring forward other assets for sale is a separate matter.  Either way, this is a significant loss for what is looking like an increasingly ineffective government.

There have been discussions about mandates.  John Key has said a separate referendum on asset sales is unnecessary because the 2011 election gave National the mandate to sell.  The opposition campaigned against asset sales and lost.  The next election will most certainly include the discussion of asset sales.  Any sales that have gone ahead will be subject to the judgement of the electorate and if it is found that they were not in accordance with what the electorate wanted, National will be dumped.  Rather like the asset-selling Labor Party in Queensland.  I'd like to see John Key show the strength of his belief that the 2011 election gave his party the mandate to sell by including a clause in any legislation that required any assets sold to be returned to their original owners if the next election disproves his "2011 mandate" theory.  Though more than that I would like to see National support the referendum, and agree to abide by its outcome.  And funnily enough, I think they do support it.

There have also been discussions on the changed economic environment, and how it is less favourable for share floats.  I doubt it will have changed much in six months, at least not for the better.

While I think there is never a good time to sell the proverbial plumbing and wiring (which are more essential to life than the proverbial family silver), the referendum/mandate issue and the economic climate issue pale in comparison to the claims made by Maori over water.

I suspect the government announced the six-month delay because the enormity of the task they face has dawned upon them.  The delay allows them some breathing space to develop reasons to further postpone the sales process, and a referendum or the economic climate are usable reasons.  Which leads to my apparently bizarre suggestion that National do support the referendum; it might be their best hope for snatching an unlikely victory.  I sincerely hope that NZ politics has not sunk that low.  It is disappointing to see that none of Labour's MPs have managed to post anything about the delay to the sales at Red Alert, even 24 hours after the announcement.

Verlaines - Bird Dog, 1987

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