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Q+A: Shane Taurima Interviews Mark Solomon

Q+A: Shane Taurima Interviews Mark Solomon
Powerful iwi boss refuses to back Maori Council legal action over partial asset sales – “All it does is give the lawyers the new Mercedes every year.” Would prefer “negotiated agreement”.
Disagrees with Waitangi Tribunal’s ruling that pressing ahead with partial asset sales is a “breach” of the Treaty, saying the Crown has acknowledged Maori rights to water.
Personally, Solomon is “leery” and “a bit uncomfortable” with selling shares in state assets.
Maori have proprietary rights to water as “first people” of New Zealand and deserve input into its governance and allocation. He’s told the PM that “consistently”.
But Maori don’t own water by “title”. “That is a Pakeha concept. When I look at the concept of ownership within a Maori paradigm, I believe it’s about you have a right of use to use the fruits…”
“We cannot stand up and ask the government to recognise our rights and interests in water by advocating the taking away of rights and interests of other people.”
Sell-down of Mighty River Power and other assets will not undermine Ngai Tahu’s water rights.
Ngai Tahu has redistributed nearly $230m since its Treaty settlement, but the message from iwi members is that money should be spent on “a hand up, not a hand out”.
“We cannot cure the social ills of Maori overnight, ”but people who criticise iwi for not doing enough about Maori poverty are “ill-informed”.
Iwi should not have to become “brown welfare”. “We are taxpayers, and we have the same right to access to Crown funding for social delivery as every other sector of society.”
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1.
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                        Tena koe, Mark Solomon. Thank you for joining us.
MARK SOLOMON - Ngai Tahu Chairman
                        Tena koe, e hoa.
SHANE           I’d like to begin with the subject that you’ve been talking about quite a bit recently:  state-asset sales and why you support the government’s plan to sell state assets.
MARK             I don’t think I’ve ever said that in any forum whatsoever that I support it.
SHANE           Do you support it?
MARK             No, what I’ve consistently said in the public forum is until all the information is put on the table so we could do a full due diligence, until then, it’s nothing but a concept. I’ve no doubt that when all the data is put on the table, our holdings corporation will do a due diligence. And if the mixed-ownership model gives a return that’s within the hurdle rates that we expect them to get, then they will make a decision of whether to invest or not.
SHANE           Do you like the concept?
MARK             On a personal level, I’m a bit leery of selling down parts of our state-owned enterprises. The reality is why, at this stage, it might say that we’re only selling 49%. No current government can buy into future government.
SHANE           So are you concerned at the prospect of Mighty River Power, as an example, on the block come next year?
MARK             Oh, on a personal level, I’m a bit comfortable, but our holdings corporation will do a due diligence if it stacks up. Maybe they will invest.
SHANE           So for Ngai Tahu, it comes back to the return.
MARK             Of course it does. We have a fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the Ngai Tahu families to manage the assets well and to get a good return. That’s our responsibility.
SHANE           The Waitangi Tribunal said, and let me quote, ‘The Crown will be in breach of Treaty principles if it proceeds to sell shares without first providing Maori with a remedy or rights recognition or at least its ability to do so.’ Isn’t it a breach of the Treaty?
MARK             I don’t actually see it that way. Um, the government has publicly acknowledged and the Tribunal backed it up that the sell-down of 49% does not prevent the government from addressing the rights and the interests of Maori.
SHANE           But it also did say it would be a clear breach of the Treaty if it wasn’t to recognise or at least first provide Maori with a remedy to be able to recognise their rights.
MARK             Again, I don’t know whether I’d agree with that. The Crown has acknowledged publicly that they acknowledge that Maori have rights and interests to water. And there is a process underway. We’ve been an active participant in the Land and Water Forum, as have a number of other tribes. First and foremost for Ngai Tahu is the protection of the waterways. That’s the big issue for us, and what we’re after, to be blunt, is we want an input into the management and the protection of the waterways within the Ngai Tahu takiwa.
SHANE           Do you believe Maori have rights to water by dint of being the first peoples?
MARK             I do believe that we have proprietary rights to water. Yes, I do.
SHANE           Have you told that to John Key?
MARK             Consistently.
SHANE           And his response?
MARK             Well, they seem to get the statement that we have proprietary rights mixed up that we’re saying it’s about ownership. We were the first people here. We managed our river systems. What we’re saying is we want input into the governance, into the management of the water systems. We do believe that we have a right to an allocation of water. But we do not - and this is a Ngai Tahu perspective: we cannot stand up and ask the government to recognise our rights and interests in water by advocating the taking away of rights and interests of other people. Ngai Tahu was part signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi, to which we believe is a partnership. We believe that there is a win-win model that gives Maori access to water alongside the rest of the nation so that we can be part of the economy of New Zealand.
SHANE           So before any sales or any share offers, for that matter, don’t you want recognition of Maori water rights first?
MARK             I believe we have recognition. I believe that the government has consistently stated they accept that Maori have rights and interests to water.
SHANE           So you have no problem whatsoever with Mighty River, the first one on the block to be sold? [MARK SHAKES HIS HEAD]
MARK             Other than my own personal opinion about the sell-down of state-owned assets, um, but, personally, I do not believe that the sell-down of parts of Meridian will affect Ngai Tahu’s rights and interests to water.
SHANE           Let’s talk about the government’s share offer that they’ve offered 65 iwi yet to settle their Treaty claims. It’s something that the Iwi Leaders Group has been working with the government on. And you’re quite supportive of the idea.
MARK             I was the chairman of the group. The discussion started around about March, and at the iwi chairs’ meeting in Heretaunga in May, an Iwi Leaders Group was set up to see if we could get an option for the unsettled iwi that, if they wished, to use part of their forthcoming settlement to be used to purchase shares in the mixed-ownership model. We’ve got that option for them. It is now entirely up to the individual iwi of whether they wish to exercise that.
SHANE           Some, though - Winston Peters as an example - have described it as, let me quote, ‘Divide and rule tactics.’ Is he right?
MARK             How? I don’t understand how he comes to that conclusion. How does that buy them off? It’s an offer. They have an option. They can say yes or no. There is no buy-off. If they wish to buy in, then they will expend some of the their future settlement monies in purchasing those shares. If they don’t, then they will get the cash from their settlement, and they’ll invest it in some other asset within New Zealand.
SHANE           Do you think water can be owned?
MARK             I do not believe that you can separate water from the waterbed. Do I believe that Maori have an ownership in the sense of a fee simple title? No, I don’t. That is a Pakeha concept. Um, when I look at the concept of ownership within a Maori paradigm, I believe it’s about you have a right of use to use the fruits, or in a Pakeha term, the usufructuary rights, but I think you have a reciprocal obligation of kaitiaki. How you define that to a Pakeha word of ownership, I’m not quite sure.
SHANE           Go back to Winston Peters, because on the issue of water, he’s raised the race relations issues. No big surprise there. But does he have a point? He says that when Maori talk about owning water or their rights in water, it’s bad for race relations.
MARK             Why is it bad for race relations? When a Pakeha farmer gets a water right and then has the right to sell that right, is that bad for race relations? What is the difference? I think his argument is flawed, and I think he’s politicking.
SHANE           The Maori Council are taking High Court action, you may have heard. Do you support that?
MARK             Ngai Tahu’s stance and the members of the Iwi Leaders Group, our position is we would far prefer a negotiated agreement than court. Court, to us, has always got to be the last option, not the first. All it does is give the lawyers the new Mercedes every year.
SHANE           Have we reached that point, in your opinion?
MARK             No.
SHANE           So what should, do you think, be happening instead of going to court?
MARK             We can’t speak on behalf of all Maori. There is a big group of us that have a view that we need to be coming to a negotiated agreement. We will go along our path. We cannot stop any other group from taking legal action, and that is their right if that is the path that they wish to take.
SHANE           But you won’t be supporting this action being taken by the council?
MARK             Not at this stage. No, we will not.
SHANE           Tainui and the Maori King have pledged their support for the council; you won’t. So, going back, I suppose, to the Winston Peter’s quote, isn’t he right when he says the government is dividing?
MARK             There are 500,000, close to 600,000, Maori in New Zealand. I’ve never known any sector or community to have a unanimous view. We are like any other people. We will have varied views, and that is all of our right.
SHANE           What odds do you put on that council actually winning?
MARK             I think any decision in court is limited to what they can do.
SHANE           Ngai Tahu reported an operating profit of $55 million for the year to the end of June. You’ve grown your asset base from $170 million to more than $800 million. Congratulations.
MARK             Thank you.
SHANE           Let me ask you a question that I’m sure you’ve been asked before. It’s based on some of the feedback we get most often on Q+A whenever we talk about poverty or welfare, and that’s why aren’t iwi using settlement money to get Maori out of poverty?
MARK             Who says we aren’t?
SHANE           Is it fair criticism?
MARK             I think it’s absolutely ill-informed people making statements about things that they know absolutely nothing about. Last financial year, we gave out 981 grants and scholarships at the tertiary level. We gave out 360, I think it is, places in the Kip McGrath or in tutorial services. We fund a number of organisations in running tutorial services. We funded-
SHANE           Before you continue, because I suspect you’re going to tell me every grant and every scholarship that Ngai Tahu has put in over the last few years, you believe you are making a difference?
MARK             Yes, I do. We’ve gone now, we’ve lifted the numbers of our people that have a tertiary degree to 11%, and that’s about a 3% increase to when we first got settlement. Is it enough? Of course it’s not enough, but we have 49,900 members. If I take up until the 1st of July last year, we had distributed, since settlement, around $227.9 million. If I divide that by the tribal population and then divide that by the years since settlement, it equates to $351 per person. So just giving out a $351 a year is not going to be of huge benefit to the individual whanau. So we have to look at initiatives that give us the best bang for our buck, if I can put it that way, that help to give our people a hand up. We were specifically told at every hui that we held with the people in 1999 we were not allowed to become the brown social welfare. Our job was to give the people a hand up, not a hand out.
SHANE           Do you believe that is iwi’s role, to become the brown social welfare?
MARK             No, I do not. I do not believe that at all. Iwi, Maori, like all other citizens of this country. We are taxpayers, and we have the same right to access to Crown funding for social delivery as every other sector of society. But it is our responsibility as the tribal groupings to try to give that hand up where we can. But, again, it has to be kept in perspective. Ngai Tahu has close to 50,000 members. A little paper exercise done the other day: just to give each of our members $1000, is $50 million. It needs to be put in perspective. We, like all other organisations, have to work by budgets. As a representative of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, as a trustee of the Ngai Tahu Charitable Trust, I have a fiduciary duty not just for the living generation, but also the future generations. So we have to do what we can. You do it one step at a time. We cannot cure the social ills of Maori overnight. We cannot create employment for all Maori overnight. We have to take it in incremental steps.
SHANE           Finally, I’d like to talk about the relativity clause.
MARK             Yes.
SHANE           It was mentioned in your annual report, and let me quote: ‘Based on discussions with the Crown, it’s expected to be triggered within the next financial year.’ How much do you expect to get?
MARK             Um, I don’t know. It’s a mathematical formula. Um, Ngai Tahu gets, for every dollar theoretically, over $1 billion. We’re entitled to 16.3 cents in the dollar discounted back to 1994 values. Every year around about October, the government puts out a statement on what they have paid out in settlements. It would be fair to say that Ngai Tahu has challenged that figure every year since it started. What will happen is we’ll have to go into a process of facilitation, mediation, whatever, to come to a quantum.
SHANE           Your bookkeepers must be doing the math. What are they telling you?
MARK             To be honest, they’re not telling us much as this stage because we have not yet received all the information that we’ve requested through the government.
SHANE           There are predictions out there, forecasts, saying both you and Tainui could be receiving a payout of up to $80 million.
MARK             I won’t discuss the figure, but no, we don’t accept that figure at all.
SHANE           So you’re expecting more?
MARK             I didn’t say that. I said we don’t accept the figure that’s been bandied about in the public forum.
SHANE           We spoke earlier too about asset sales and the fact that the government is using that because it’s cash-strapped. So I wonder whether or not it will be looking at a similar offer like what they’ve come up with the 65 iwi, the share offer, for you as Ngai Tahu.
MARK             No. The government has been quite explicit on that. No iwi will have any other different- no settled iwi will have any other rights of access to the shares than the general public. If Ngai Tahu or any other tribe that is settled wishes to purchase shares in the mixed-ownership model, they have to go through exactly the same process as everybody else.
SHANE           So you expect to receive cash back?
MARK             Yes.
SHANE           No form of shares.
MARK             No form of shares.
SHANE           When do you expect to receive that?
MARK             Again, it will probably be a disputed process. How long’s a piece of string?
SHANE           Thank you very much for your time. Tena koe.


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