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Q+A: Interview with Te Ururoa Flavell

Published: 2:01PM Sunday August 26, 2012 Source: Q+A


Kia ora, Te Ururoa Flavell. Thank you for joining us.


Tena koe.

SHANE The tribunal says Maori have ownership rights. John Key says nobody owns water. Who is right?

FLAVELL Well, I suppose that's going to be determined shortly. I mean, the Waitangi Tribunal report gave us a good start to affirm, and I suppose if you want to take it that the tribunal is an advisory body, in one sense, to the government, then they've investigated it, they've found that there is some issues here in terms of confirming those rights. And so I think we need to sort of stay with that line.

SHANE What is your position, Te Ururoa Flavell? Do you think that Maori have ownership rights?

FLAVELL I think that we do have proprietary rights, as confirmed by the Waitangi Tribunal, but it's not my decision. I'm simply an MP in Parliament whose role, as a part of the Maori Party, is to try and work with the government and the parties and the claimants in this case to try and work our way forward to the issues that we have to face.

SHANE So John Key is wrong?

FLAVELL Well, he's identified his position; the tribunal's identified their position. No doubt there'll be people throughout the country who have a different position. That's just the way it is. But the important thing is that the tribunal gave us a way forward, and that is to get all the parties in the room, sit down and have the discussion, rather than go to court, because in that regard, probably, you know, there's only going to be one party that wins. Far better that we have discussion, calling in the claimants, calling in the other parties and indeed the government to the table and work things through.

SHANE So also part of the tribunal's plans is that it says the government must defer its plans to sell state assets sales and work out with Maori how those rights are recognised. Is that your expectation?

FLAVELL I think so. As far as I'm aware, the Maori Council are aware that we're attempting to pull together the claimants, including the Maori Council, to the table. We're also aware that the Iwi Leaders Groups are also having a meeting in September, and we are looking to have a meeting with the Prime Minister and senior ministers in a short space of time -  in fact, in the next week, if timetables can match up - to try and get to some point where we do get around the table all the parties together-

SHANE But you've heard what John Key has said in recent weeks, and you've seen the polls - positive polls. What makes you think he'll listen now?

FLAVELL Well, what makes me believe that he will listen is the sense that we had an agreement the last time that that we met-

SHANE To meet.

FLAVELL...over this issue to meet and to bring the parties together. Firstly, that he'd discuss the issues with us as the Maori Party. Secondly, that we've already had a meeting with representatives of both the claimants and the Maori Council to put some cards on the table. Thirdly, I think that there's an acceptance that there's a lot to discuss, there's a lot at stake, and therefore it would be appropriate to maintain dialogue.

SHANE The tribunal says if the government refuses - if they refuse and proceed with the sale of Mighty River Power - it will be clear breach of the treaty. Are you happy to support a government that would do openly such a thing?

FLAVELL We've made our stance pretty clear that we want the process of law to follow its course. The tribunal did very well in pulling up this report - 400-and-something pages in a very short space of time - that set the platform for moving forward into the future, and I think that it's important for all the parties to continue the dialogue. That's what would be required, and I suppose that, as Sir Taihakurei Durie has already commented on, if it isn't, then the inevitable result will be a court case.

SHANE But surely you don't need- With respect, Te Ururoa Flavell, surely you don't need another meeting to be able to tell us today that a treaty breach is simply unacceptable?

FLAVELL What the tribunal has done is giving us a starting point, Shane, for further discussion. They've given what most people have accepted has been what was going to be an inevitable conclusion to the discussion in terms of confirming property rights. Now the next question is, well, what happens from here? And that's the key question - what happens in terms of the sale of the state-owned assets and in particular Mighty River Power? There's a lot at stake here. Therefore it's incumbent on all parties to take a bit of time out, consider the recommendations from the tribunal, but more importantly set up a platform for moving forward into the future

SHANE But let me ask you the question again - surely you don't need more dialogue from here on to be able to tell us this morning that a treaty breach is not acceptable. That's what the tribunal has said. It has said if the Crown does not halt its plans, it will be clearly in breach of the treaty. Is that acceptable?

FLAVELL Well, it's not acceptable, but what the bottom line is is that we've been given a report to say if it happens - and what I'm saying to you, in terms of a political context, is that it is therefore important for us to pull the parties together to continue the dialogue to ensure there isn't a breach, if that's what happens.

SHANE So doesn't that mean that John Key must defer?

FLAVELL Well, that's the suggestion, certainly, from the tribunal. And we're saying at this point in time-

SHANE And for you? What do you think?

FLAVELL Well, I think that's fair. I think that we've already, as a party, we've said that we're against the state assets, but our role in this whole scenario is to try and make sure that the doors are open to continue dialogue with claimants and our people to work towards positive outcomes. It's in no one's interests to have everyone back up against the wall and take an opposition approach. The bottom line is that we need to work towards a positive outcome where everyone can move forward and, in a sense, have win-wins for everyone.

SHANE And how long do you think this will take? It's taken many years to get to this point. Are you confident that a deal could be struck between the government and Maori by the end of the year?

FLAVELL Well, that's the hope. It's not for me to say. The bottom line is- As I say, our approach is to try and get the parties in the room. The bottom-

SHANE Which you have achieved.


SHANE Which you have achieved.

FLAVELL Well, it's a starting point-

SHANE So my question to you is are you confident that a deal could be struck by the end of the year?

FLAVELL I'd be hopeful. That's the best I can leave it at, because in the end, it will be up to the claimants to, I suppose, believe that their interests are going to be protected, and also there's a part there to be played by people like the Iwi Leaders Forum that have had ongoing dialogue with the government agencies for at least the last year or so. It's important for them to have their space and time, and they will talk for themselves. It's not for me to talk for them.

SHANE So we could safe assume, therefore, that Mighty River Power won't be up for sale until next year. How will that affect the sale or do you even care?

FLAVELL Well, I think we're going a little bit fast there, Shane. Let's let the discussion go ahead first before we get to that point in time. There are all sorts of things that might mean that various parties cut out and say, "That's enough. Let's go to court." Or on the other side, "We're going to go ahead with the sales straight away." I think it's way early to start talking about what could happen in the next year or so. Let's just wait up a little bit, take a little bit of time out, let the parties consider the outcomes of the report and, if it means meetings after meeting after meeting to try and find a conclusion, so be it. I mean, the tribunal has already suggested that it is important that Maoridom have a hui in the first instance to get some sort of collective view about their approach. I think that's the way to go.

SHANE And there we must leave. Te Ururoa Flavell, thank you very much for joining us.

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