Q + A: Panel Discussions - Flavell
Q + A August 26,
Hosted by GREG BOYED
In response to Te Ururoa Flavell interview
GREG First of all, Bryce, dead clear there – if they go ahead with this, they’re breaching the treaty. They’ve got to defer. The government has to defer on this.
BRYCE Yes, but Flavell didn’t really accept that. He said it’s a breach, but he refused to say that they’d walk away from the government, which is just astounding for a Maori Party politician to say that they might be willing to go along with it.
GREG He said they’ve got to defer, though. To be fair to Te Ururoa Flavell, that was pretty emphatic.
BRYCE But he was pretty wishy-washy in that interview, and you have to wonder why he came on the programme today if he didn’t really have much to say about it. He just parroted the usual Maori Party lines, and, I mean, I kind of understand that, because, of course, the Maori Party have got this agreement with National not to be provocative, not to be reactive. But it’s also speaking to the dilemma they’re in.
GREG It sounded pretty strong to me. It did sound pretty strong to me. Maybe Te Ururoa Flavell— But Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia – they’re going to be dead strong on this: “You go ahead with this, you’re breaching the treaty, the end.” Was that your reading on it, Wira?
WIRA I think you’re being a bit unfair, Bryce. I think he was saying to Shane, “Slow down. We haven’t got to the first step yet.” And I think it’s fair for him to not precipitate the Maori Party into another stand-off, because actually they don’t have too many options. If they’re going to another stand-off, you know, you can’t cry wolf too often.
GREG True. Having said that, this is cornerstone stuff, isn’t it? They do this, it’s very clear.
WIRA It’s very important.
BRYCE This is make-or-break for the Maori Party.
WIRA This is very important for them, and I think that’s why I thought he was measured this morning rather than wishy-washy.
GREG It ain’t gonna open in September, though, is it? We’re not going to have a sale then.
MIKE Bryce has a point. There's a point at which the Maori Party can’t have its bread buttered on both sides, and that’s what you were getting close to today.
GREG That’s the weirdest metaphor I’ve ever heard, Mike.
GREG Thanks, anyway. Was the government pretty naïve to put this on the block and think this wasn’t going to be an issue in the first place? Because if you take it right through to where it goes – Maori water rights – they’re going to hit a snag. They must have known that, surely.
MIKE You could have guessed that. I had the experience of being on the board of Genesis Energy when Genesis wanted to renew its 35-year consent for the Tongariro power development. Now, part of that development is the Whanganui River. The headwaters of the Whanganui River are taken and they’re turned down the Waikato River and it goes through the two Genesis Energy dams, which are Rangipo and Tokaanu. Now, at the time, the board of Genesis Energy looked at the use of the Whanganui River water and worked out it was worth $30 million a year. So that’s what was being taken from the Whanganui tribes. Now, just think a bit further – that water goes all the way down the Waikato River. It goes through – I won’t read them all – Aratiatia, Ohakuri, Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Maraetai, Waipapa.
GREG This could turn into a song, Mike. You know that, don’t you?
MIKE That is another $100 million use of that water.
GREG What's this going to be doing to potential investors that are looking at this, going, “Ugh, it’s supposed to be happening in a month’s time. This ain’t gonna happen”?
WIRA Well, can I come back to your question, Greg? Your question was was the government surprised? I don’t think so. I mean, you take the last 20 years. We’ve had SOE Act, we’ve had more recently the Foreshore and Seabed, and you have the Maori Council which has a piece of legislation that actually requires it to act in the way that it acts.
GREG OK, saying it’s not a surprise – it’s certainly acting surprised, because it’s right on the back foot.
WIRA Oh, I can’t comment on that.
GREG You can, go on.
MIKE They are surprised. Look, the money from these asset sales is in the Budget. They’ve counted their chickens before they hatched. Do you understand that metaphor?
GREG This is going to go to court, though. This is going to go to court.
BRYCE I don’t think the government’s too worried about going to court. Everyone’s saying— The political commentary is saying that asset sales are off now, that the government’s in trouble, but I’m not so sure. It’s not entirely inevitable that they won’t go, “OK, let’s have a court case. We’ve acted in good faith. We’ll plough through.” I mean, even the idea of a snap election isn’t totally off the cards, I don’t think. The government could push that or John Key could push that nuclear option, because I think most of the public’s behind the government on this, and although the report that came out on Friday was entirely predictable, and it didn’t get much coverage, actually, because most people are pretty sick—
MIKE It was a Friday.
BRYCE Yeah, Friday, but people are pretty sick and tired, I think, of the Waitangi Tribunal debate. It seems kind of abstract and boring, but it does have some pretty big ramifications, and once the public’s aware of that, I think we might see quite a big debate with big ramifications for race relations and so forth.
GREG On race relations, Don Brash and your relationship with the party after the Orewa speech and after the mud-throwing in Waitangi and so forth, is this a similar line? Can this go a similar way?
WIRA Well, I think we have to go through some steps, and I’m on the side of Te Ururoa Flavell. We’ve got to have some discussions, and that’s already taking place. The Prime Minister’s indicated that he’ll think about it carefully and he’ll engage with Maori. And that’s what prime ministers have done for 20 or so years, and I think in Helen’s case around the Foreshore and Seabed, that precipitated a set of reactions nobody expected. And I think we’ve got a couple of steps to go yet.
GREG If National goes ahead, is this going to be a breach of the treaty?
WIRA Well, that’s a test of the courts. Only the courts will—
GREG As it stands now, though, if they go ahead with this and—?
WIRA That’s the opinion of the Waitangi Tribunal. The opinion of the Waitangi Tribunal – it makes a recommendation and it has an opinion, and those opinions can be tested in the courts, and I think it’d be foolish to prejudge whether it will be or not.
GREG Bryce, an opinion was, as you’ve already covered, politically, poll-wise it’s not necessarily a terrible thing for National.
BRYCE That’s right, except National are playing the gentle game at the moment. Their hands are a bit tied with this agreement with the Maori Party, but New Zealand First’s hands aren’t tied, and so I think we’ll see that Winston Peters could come out quite strong on this and do very well in resonating with the public. The Labour Party, their hands are a bit tied as well, because they want to tread carefully on this. But watch out for an explosion in public debate on this.
GREG Which way is this going to go, Mike? Which way do you think it’s going to go?
MIKE Look, I think it can be solved, but I think the victim will be the asset-sales programme, and I think it will be put off. And I gave you the instance of the Waikato River water being used by both Mighty River Power and Genesis Energy. Well, the answer to that is to pay a rental on that water, and at 10%, that would be $15 million a year going to the Whanganui River tribe. However, that reduces the value of the asset that they’re trying to sell.
BRYCE And it’s going to be highly controversial. I don’t think the public’s going to buy that.