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Maori Party - Urgent Debate on Toll Holdings

Urgent Debate on Toll Holdings - the return of trains and ferries to Crown ownership

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party Tuesday 13 May 2008

The Maori Party comes to this debate with a range of feelings about the Government's snap announcement to buy Toll's rail and ferry business for $665 million.

The decision to reclaw back significant assets into the ownership of the Crown is a significant challenge to the context and history of privatisation in Aotearoa.

The major beneficiaries of privatisation - big business and transnational organisations - came into Aotearoa, bought up large on all our existing infrastructure - and too many New Zealanders have become casualties of that policy over the last decade and more.

Maori have been particularly hard hit by much of this privatization and sale of New Zealand's assets, through the sale of industries and workplaces which employed huge numbers of Maori - like forestry, the railroad, telecom, and the break-up and sale of many of the country's freezing works.

Government was also selling off resources subject to treaty claims; resources which were hard enough to recover when held by Crown - but which would become nigh on impossible to get back once ownership moved offshore.

And so, because of the particular economic and monetary policy decisions by successive Governments, the Maori Party has been advocating for a greater emphasis on sustainable, equitable and participatory solutions; solutions that put Aotearoa first.

Establishing a properly integrated rail system is one such solution, the use of a state owned asset for the benefit of all who call Aotearoa home.

And so we think back to some 21 years ago, when in 1987 the Labour Government set about passing the State-Owned Enterprises Bill, and we recall the advice of the Waitangi Tribunal at that time.

The Tribunal drew the nation's attention to the fact that the State Owned Enterprises Bill, took no account of the need to address Treaty of Waitangi concerns.

And on 29 June 1987 the full Court of Appeal unanimously declared that the proposed wholesale transfer of assets to State enterprises, without establishing any system to consider whether the transfer of such assets would be inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, would be unlawful.

As a result a clause was added stating that nothing in the Bill shall be inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty. The amendment was hard fought, and yet real implementation of its intent has been harder still.

This was a dark period in our history, a period which went against the interests of the Treaty partners, a period which ruthlessly, recklessly failed to fully take into account the consequences of assets passing from the Crown, upon the honour of the Treaty.

Justice David Baragwanath, in referring to the historic New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General decision of 1987, demonstrated the glaring and profound damage that stripping the nation's assets would do in terms of the Treaty relationship, and I quote:

The Crown was about to deprive itself of the capacity to honour by return of disputed assets the manifold breaches of its Treaty obligations. They would pass into the hands of third parties and be irrecoverable.

And so, when Labour determined to re-invest in rail, we thought of this past, we thought of this history, and we welcome the move as a positive move for our future.

But there are other reasons why we supported the Government's decision to buy back the rail.

We have an absolute commitment to working in ways to ensure energy efficiency and sustainable progress in terms of environmental management.

In this context, the electrification of rail, the possibility of having longer, heavier and more efficient trains that means more freight could be taken off the road and put on rail, are all positive steps along the way towards achieving less greenhouse gas emissions and a cleaner country for all.

The Maori Party is happy to support investment in the rail infrastructure to deliver a better service and thereby reduce the number of cars on the road.

We note that the rolling stock is old. Reports about having to take stock out of museums to cope with the rail demand hardly engenders confidence in the industry.

There is, however, a concern that we share with other parties in the house about the prospect of taxpayers having to face an extra $200 million as part of the Government's buy-back of the national rail service.

We applaud what they did in having the courage to invest more than one billion dollars in the country's rail and Cook Strait ferry services, including the planned upgrades.

But the lack of transparency is always a worry with this Government - the two hundred million dollar debt should have been declared upfront.

Ultimately, we know that the decision to buy back the rail was always designed to engender votes in an election year and we are disturbed at the environment of secrecy that has surrounded some of their statements.

But in balance we certainly support the decision in our belief in the value of keeping our assets here under the ownership and for the benefit of New Zealanders.


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