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The Nation: Transcript - Te Ururoa Flavell

'The Nation'
Te Ururoa Flavell
Interviewed by RACHEL SMALLEY

Rachel The Waitangi Tribunal has told the government to put its plans to partially privatise state assets on hold until its resolved the issues surrounding Maori rights to fresh water. The government is planning to sell up to 49% of Mighty River Power, Solid Energy, Meridian and Genesis, and so this finding is a major setback for the government and its asset sales programme. We did ask Finance Minister, Bill English to appear on the programme. He said it was too early to make any comments. But Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell did agree to speak with us. He joins us now from Rotorua. Kia or Mr Flavell. What's your first reaction to this report?

Te Ururoa Flavell – Maori Party MP
Kia ora Rachel. Well it's a fairly lengthy report for a start, haven’t been able to get over the whole length and breadth of the report. But in the first instance just congratulations to the Waitangi Tribunal for having in a short space of time been able to clarify that there are issues with respect to proprietary interest and rights, and customary rights in water. That’s the first point. The second point I suppose to acknowledge that at the heart of any legal system that the issues of property rights are important, they need to be given due consideration, and they’ve set the platform for a longer discussion. I think that’s probably going to happen over the next couple of months.

Rachel So what would you like the government to do now?

Te Ururoa Well I think the Tribunal's set the course and said simply hold up a little bit, let's have some discussion, let's get the parties together. I think in terms of the Maori side there's always been a determination to have more discussion rather than head to court, that that doesn’t necessarily have any winners. Or rather everybody doesn’t win from going to court. So I think that there's a clear line that says let's have the parties get together. Take some time out to consider the recommendations, because they are about a starting point for further dialogue and move towards that sort of solution.

Rachel When you say take some time out, how long are you suggesting that time out should be?

Te Ururoa Well that’s really in the hands of both on the government's side and on Maori side. On the government's side there are a number of ministers that are involved in this whole issue including ministers from the Maori Party, Mrs Turia and Mr Sharples, and on the Maori side there are a number of players, including claimants, of whom the Maori Council is one, including the Iwi Leaders Forum, and it's important that the parties come together, firstly to have their own hui to work out their own strategies, and then get to the table to negotiate, and try and find a way forward.

Rachel Do you think there will be any asset sales this year Mr Flavell?

Te Ururoa Of that I'm not too sure. I think it depends very much on the outcomes of the discussion. I know that the Iwi Leaders Forum are set to have some discussions in the next couple of weeks or so. The Maori Party from our perspective see our role as trying to bring the parties together and will be looking to draw all of the claimants and the Iwi Leaders Group together in the next short space in time, and then of course you heard at the last round, when the Waitangi Tribunal hearing was going on, a determination on the part of the Maori Party and the National Party to come together and discuss ways forward. So there's a little bit of work to be done yet.

Rachel Okay, last month Mr Flavell, when the Maori Party met with John Key, the Prime Minister said that when it comes to ownership, the longstanding view is that no one owns water. In light of this report does the government now have to change its view on this?

Te Ururoa Well I think the Waitangi Tribunal has done the job of clarifying that there are issues of customary interests in water, and the government would probably need to take that seriously, but that’s in their court, and the Waitangi Tribunal has simply set the platform for further discussion on those issues.

Rachel Okay the government says it's going to come back within probably a couple of weeks on this. There's talk of a national hui. What's the timeframe for that, how quickly can you get this organised?

Te Ururoa Well from the Maori Party perspective at least we know that we're attempting to pull the parties together within the next short space of time, depending on timetable, and that’s likely to be within the next two weeks at the very most. But in terms of a national hui, the national hui that I think is being referred to as in September, maybe mid September, certainly from the Iwi Leaders Group, but they can confirm that themselves. I think we're talking at least a month before we're able to get a clearer picture about where things go.

Rachel How likely is it do you think that Maori can reach a consensus on this? There's so many different ideas and approaches at the moment.

Te Ururoa Well we're like any other group where everybody does have their differences, and have the background of the report to confirm a position, the hard part that everybody has to deal with is well what now, in particular with respect to the sell off of the state owned assets. I mean while a lot has been made of the Maori influence, or at least the issue of water in the whole question of the asset sales, there are other players in this and I think that one of your reports might come up – you referred earlier at least in your intro around the other companies, and talking about the interests of Comalco for example, trying to lower the cost of electricity down there. There are a number of players so it's not just about a Maori interest, but we hope that – there's general agreement that we do want to move forward and I'm sure that Maori interests will give it everything they’ve got to give some conclusion to having a united view to take to the government.

Rachel What's the bottom line Mr Flavell if the government comes back to you and says it's choosing not to honour the recommendations of the tribunal and it goes ahead with the sales, will you walk away from the coalition?

Te Ururoa That hasn’t been discussed as yet, and not likely to be discussed until we get to that point in time. I think the key thing that we took into the last meeting was – and had agreement from the Prime Minister was – that rights and interests would not be legislated over the top of those rights and interests, and that’s an important keystone element for us. I haven’t got that approval or at least that agreement from the Prime Minister, and that’s a huge start, the rest of it is really in the hands of our people. Our job is to facilitate the discussion, bring the parties together, and see if we can't find the way forward.

Rachel Sure but how would you personally feel if the government chooses to snub the Tribunal?

Te Ururoa Well let's wait and see on that. They haven’t done that at this point in time.

Rachel They’ve suggested they may choose not to follow the recommendations. How would you feel as a Maori. How would you feel if they chose to snub that?

Te Ururoa Well it wouldn’t probably be anything new, because a number of recommendations from the Waitangi Tribunal have been snubbed by the previous governments across the board. So look it's a little bit early Rachel on that discussion, I think far better to let the discussion go. That’s what we're on about, we want to get some solutions and I think we need to allow the parties to have their debate in their own forums and then come together in time, and that’s what we'll be driving towards as the Maori Party to facilitate that discussion.

Rachel Te Ururoa Flavell very much appreciate your time this morning speaking with us from Rotorua. Thank you.

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