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Q+A: Interview with Hone Harawira, Winston Peters and John Boscawen

Published: 12:32PM Sunday September 02, 2012 Source: Q+A

GREG BOYED

Tomorrow, at last, is D-Day for asset sales. Cabinet meets, and after a week of deliberations on the Waitangi Tribunal's contentious water rights report, we'll hear what National intends. Will it press ahead, or hang fire, as the tribunal urged, and negotiate? Can it somehow do both? And what about the Maori Party? Its leaders didn't want to talk ahead of the decision. ACT leader John Banks and United Future leader Peter Dunne, who both voted for the sales, declined to appear as well. We still have three distinct views, though. Mana Party leader Hone Harawira, NZ First leader Winston Peters and ACT's deputy leader and former MP John Boscawen. They're all with Shane Taurima.

SHANE TAURIMA

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Welcome to the programme. Hone Harawira, let's begin with you. What do you think the government should do?

HONE HARAWIRA - Mana Party Leader

I think it's important to start it off with the ruling from the tribunal, which was that the government would be in breach of the Treaty of Waitangi if it pushed ahead with this asset sales programme before the issue of Maori water rights has been settled. I think what the government should be doing is recognising the importance of that tribunal ruling. I think the government should give the tribunal time. They've asked for the time, as have the council, for those rights to be clarified and taken out to Maoridom so that there's a proper understanding of what they should be.

SHANE

So delay their programme.

HONE

And, I think, at the end of the day, they should, if they are showing faith in the tribunal and the judicial process, defer the sales of state assets programme.

SHANE

John Boscawen, the government, National - this is a cornerstone policy that we're talking about. They'd look weak, though, if they were to delay, wouldn't they?

JOHN BOSCAWEN - ACT Party Deputy Leader

Uh, I don't believe they would. Having said that, I think there are irrefutable reasons to support going ahead. I think there are massive advantages to the economy in privatising these assets. The evidence has been irrefutable in all the studies done on partial privatisations and privatisations. There's huge benefits to the economy.

SHANE

So let's just clarify your position. You're saying you wouldn't mind if they were to hold their programme.

JOHN

What I'm saying is that there are huge advantages for proceeding and to partially privatise these assets. One only has to look at the area of Tauranga Winston used to represent. Just compare the performance of the Port of Tauranga against the Ports of Auckland. The Port of Tauranga's privatised. Massive improvements in productivity.

SHANE

So can I please just pinpoint your position. Do you agree with the tribunal that the government should halt its sale programme?

JOHN

We think the government should proceed.

SHANE

So go ahead. Winston Peters, where does that leave you? We've got one saying halt and negotiate, one saying proceed, push on.

WINSTON PETERS - NZ First Leader

Well, first of all, New Zealanders must be alarmed - and I don't care where they come from - but they must be alarmed that such a critical issue as this is not being decided by a court of law but by something that's not even a court - a tribunal. Put that aside. The people say that they're opposed, it's a bad idea. The market, particularly right now, says it's a bad idea. Every economist with half a brain says it's a bad idea. And, frankly, they should set it aside, follow the wish of the people and get on with trying to find alternatives to run the country sustainably long-term, economically and soundly.

SHANE

We're talking about court, Hone Harawira. Won't the government need to pull something out of its hat, otherwise it will be off to court.

HONE

I think the government should defer the court action by simply allowing the tribunal the time that it's asked for to consider what those rights mean, what the extent of those rights are, what the role of Maori is in terms of water, in terms of rights and responsibilities. And the opportunity for Maori to consider exactly how best to move forward, rather than try to rush ahead with a deal with two or three individuals just to sell off Mighty River in opposition to what the whole of New Zealand wants.

SHANE

And if it doesn't do that, it's off to court, isn't it?

HONE

If it doesn't do that, then I think the Maori Council is very much within their rights to go to court. I mean, the tribunal's ruling is quite clear on that.

SHANE

Mr Peters, John Key seems to expect court action, and he seems to be quite relaxed about it. Are you happy for the courts to make a decision on this issue, to decide?

WINSTON

Well, it's only his naivety that would make him relaxed about it. I mean, this was somebody who promised us the very reverse of what's happened. He's put this issue on the basis of race before a tribunal, and now we're going to have injunctions and on to the high courts of this country. The very thing he promised not to do. But the reality is he's not relaxed, because everything that suggests the latest market situation in terms of the interests of New Zealand says he should not be doing what he's doing. Forget about what the ACT Party says. They're so good, the ACT Party. The Maori Party, the United Future Party and the National Party - they're not prepared to put up one person today to sustain their argument. They're collapsing on this issue. And the sooner we get on with running a sound, prosperous country with sound macro and micro economic policies, rather than these sort of silver bullets, the better.

SHANE

Mr Boscawen, is this a good time to sell them? It looks a bit risky at the moment, especially with the state of the markets.

JOHN

Well, I think that just simply highlights the fact governments are not good owners of business. Winston just said we need to run a prosperous country. 12 years ago, the government sold a 40% stake in Contact Energy for $5 a share. And today it trades at less than $5. It actually trades at less than what the government-

WINSTON

It's the worst performer of them all.

JOHN

We had Solid Energy announce write-offs of $150 million during the week on the basis of falling coal prices.

SHANE

So you're saying it is a good time to sell?

JOHN

It is a good time to sell. We don't know what the future holds. That's the whole point about private enterprise. Absolutely conclusively, private enterprise runs businesses better. As I say, simply compare the Port of Tauranga - privately listed, on the stock exchange - with Ports of Auckland, which is run inefficiently and 100% controlled by the Auckland Council.

WINSTON

Of those power companies, the worst performer of the last five years has been Contact. Why would he say that the private industry's been able to run it better that the government industry, which is the very one he wants his mates to get his hands on?

SHANE

Let's go back to the point around this being a good time to sell. If, though, the government doesn't defer and it looks like, as Hone predicts, there will be legal action, that's going to delay the sale. What is that going to do?

JOHN

This is a fundamental plank of the government's policy. It's about operating these businesses efficiently.

SHANE

What will legal action do? Won't it actually hold it up, so therefore the follow-up question to that is, does the government need to legislate?

JOHN

The government can proceed. The government argued in front of the Waitangi Tribunal it can proceed. It argued that if there is determined to be those rights available, that the government can proceed.

HONE

I have to cut in here.

SHANE

Let him finish.

JOHN

Look, this could take years and years and years to settle these water rights. The government campaigned on a policy of opening up these assets.

SHANE

I'm going to allow Hone to have his say.

HONE

John wasn't even at the tribunal hearing. I was, and I can advise that nearly every one of the Crown witnesses admitted that Maori had a right to water and that that right should be clarified before the state assets sales programme proceeded. In terms of whether-

JOHN

And that's correct.

HONE

Taihoa, John. In terms of whether it's a good idea economically, when Gareth Morgan comes on TV and says, 'I find it difficult to believe that John Key can sell an asset that he doesn't have the papers to.' And that's exactly what the tribunal is saying. Those papers are not John Key's to sell. On that basis, it should be clarified before it moves forward.

SHANE

The point about, though, the government legislating to say that nobody owns water, because we-

HONE

That's two different positions that the Prime Minister's taken in the last six weeks. He came out early to say nobody owns water. He had a private meeting with iwi leaders and said everybody owns water. Now, the guy's got to make his mind up. It's either there, there or somewhere in the middle.

SHANE

Can I ask you the same question, Winston?

WINSTON

Mr Boscawen and everybody out there who wants to defends this - if, as Mr Key says, no one owns water, then on what basis does he purport to sell 49% of it?

JOHN

He's not.

WINSTON

That's the first thing. Then when you listen to this ideological humbug here, the worst performer of these power companies of which we speak was Contact Energy. The other ones are performing at

18% plus, debt servicing at about 5% or 6%. This is gilt-edged security, well managed by the public. That's why his mates can't wait to get their hands on it.

SHANE

You don't want it to go to court. Would you prefer that the government legislates?

WINSTON

No, I prefer the government back off this silly policy that put the matter in front of the tribunal in the first place, that naively went ahead despite all these warnings that they were given and decides on the economic basis that it's also an act of grave national stupidity.

SHANE

But it doesn't look like they're going to do that, though, does it?

WINSTON

I'm not going to predict what these people do. All I'm saying is what the outcome's going to be, and the outcome will be that this will be a very short-term measure if they go down that track.

SHANE

To provide some clarity, to provide some certainty so the sale could proceed, Mr Boscawen, would you prefer that the government legislates?

JOHN

I don't think that's necessary at all. In fact, when the government sought to legislate the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2003, the ACT Party strongly opposed it.

SHANE

And you would oppose the same if they were to take the same action this time around?

JOHN

This is not a particular issue that our ACT board has discussed at this stage.

SHANE

What's your personal feeling?

JOHN

Looking back to 2003, the ACT Party stands for one law for all. It actually supports property rights, it supports the right of iwi to go to court, and that was the reason that we opposed the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2003. Coming back to Hone's point, Hone's conceded that the nature of these rights in uncertain. This could take years and years and years to settle. You've just acknowledged that, which is the reason the government must push on with the sale. It's a fundamental priority-

SHANE

Can we talk about the politics, because as you said from the outset, the tribunal has said that this would be a clear treaty breach if the government was to proceed.

HONE That's right.

SHANE

Therefore, does the Maori Party have any choice but to walk if the government proceeds?

HONE

Oh, they've done their best to talk tough and not walk on many previous occasions. They won't walk this time. In terms of where the politics are on this issue right now, ACT has just announced that they won't support it, NZ First won't support it, Mana won't support it, the Greens won't support it, Labour won't support it. If the Maori Party doesn't support it, this deal is dead in the water.

SHANE

So the Maori Party, you're saying, it must walk if the government was to announce tomorrow that it would proceed.

HONE

As a matter of principle, the Maori Party should walk. They can't have the tribunal say that the government's proceeding on this would be a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. They can't have that ruling and then stay with the government if the government chooses to breach the Treaty of Waitangi. However, I don't believe that they well because they've never shown a willingness to stand by principle in the past.

SHANE

John, can I just confirm, did you just say you won't support this?

JOHN

What I said was that the ACT Party board has not discussed this issue, but if you look back to 2003, we strongly opposed government partial legislation and we supported the right of the Maori claimants to go to court. We actually supported the right of iwi to go to court.

SHANE

What happens if the Maori Party walks? Will ACT stay there to continue to support the government?

JOHN

The ACT Party is committed to supporting the government, but let's just simply say that the Maori Party have been incredibly successful in what they've negotiated with the National Party in the last four years. They've achieved far more than they achieved under the Labour Government. Simply just look at the United Nations Declaration on indigenous people. Helen Clark refused to ratify that. John Key did.

SHANE

Let's talk about whether or not a middle road can actually be achieved here. It doesn't look like the government's going to stop its programme or halt its programme. Is there any middle road for it?

WINSTON

There's no middle road. There's no middle road for fiscal treachery like this. What do you mean a middle road? What they're doing is selling one of the gilt-edged assets that our grandfathers and forefathers built up, that is a massive profitable venture that even Treasury, which hardly is a left-wing outfit, says is fiscally unsound as a move. And the only pathway for the Maori Party and the National Party is to come to their senses and put this matter back where it belongs: with the people.

HONE

Yep.

SHANE

So what do you expect to be in tomorrow's announcement? What is Mr Key going to say?

HONE

I think, like John Boscawen said, that they are committed to this because it's a major plank of their policy, and they're going to do whatever it takes to go ahead with this sale. If that forces them into the courts, I expect them to legislate in the same way that Labour legislated over the foreshore and seabed. I would expect as a matter of principle that the Maori Party walks. They won't. I'd be surprised if ACT didn't oppose the government on this one. In which case, the whole house of cards will collapse.

SHANE

If Hone's predications are right, Winston, the coalition could collapse.

WINSTON

Well, I don't think for a moment the ACT Party's going to do anything at all, frankly. The idea that they've got principles is so ridiculous, it's not even worth discussing. The reality-

JOHN

Winston, I'd much rather have my reputation than yours, mate.

WINSTON

With great respect, you've got no reputation. That's why you've gone. That's why we're back.

SHANE

So talking about tomorrow?

WINSTON

Well, let's get on to it because I thought we wasted far too much time with a party that's going to oblivion. Now, my real point is that tomorrow Mr Key will go for one further shot at his, I think, exquisite solutions. But there aren't any more left. He's run out of time, he's run out of options, he's run out of answers, and that's now very blatantly and glaringly exposed before the New Zealand people. He should act in the national interest and put this silly idea aside.

SHANE

And the last word, please, Mr Boscawen. Your expectations for tomorrow.

JOHN

I believe Mr Key will act in the national interest. The evidence for partial privatisations is overwhelming, and one only has to compare the performance of the Port of Tauranga - 10% increase, 10 times increasing profits in the last 20 years - with the Ports of Auckland controlled by the Auckland Council. And the government will act in the interests of all New Zealanders. This is an issue, water rights, that could take several years to resolve.

SHANE

And unfortunately we have to leave it there. Thank you, gentlemen for joining us, and have a happy Father's Day.

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