Jan 8, 2013

Fisking the Herald

I like South Park. One of my favourite episodes is “Raising the Bar” where a caricature of James Cameron leads an undersea expedition to, literally, raise the bar. The episode is notable because the show went meta. After Cameron raises the bar from the bottom of the ocean and Michelle Obama beats the shit out of Cartman, Kyle states that maybe South Park is responsible for lowering the bar. It was a nice way for the show’s creators to acknowledge that maybe they’re part of the problem. On a similar note it would be nice for the writer of this editorial to acknowledge his or her part in lowering the standard of editorial writing and argument in New Zealand. Admittedly, the bar couldn’t be set much lower, but it’s comforting to know there is still room before the Herald, the Dom Post and New Zealand’s other dailies hit the ocean floor. Let’s start at the beginning:

The Prime Minister was never more wrong last year than when he declared the Government could ignore a recommendation of the Waitangi Tribunal.

In reality, the Prime Minister was perfectly correct. The Waitangi Tribunal is a permanent commission of inquiry rather than a Court. Therefore, the Tribunal’s recommendations don’t bind the Crown (with rare exceptions) or any other parties. In contrast, the Courts can make rulings that bind the parties involved. The Tribunal exercises little to no soft power either. More often than not the political consequences of ignoring the Tribunal are positive, think of the foreshore and seabed when the government ignored the Tribunal and won approval from many New Zealanders.

It needs to be remembered that the case is not about who owns water.

No, it’s not. However, later in the piece the writer says that “the recognition (iwi) sought (is) customary ownership of the water”. Make your mind up – “the case is not about who owns water” and the case is about “customary ownership of the water” are two mutually exclusive statements.

It (the case) is about whether the ownership of dams and power stations will make it harder for iwi to be compensated if they ever convince a government they own the water.

No. The issue centred on whether or not the transformation from an SOE to a MOM company would affect the Crown’s ability to provide rights redress and recognition and, as a result, breach either s9 of the SOE Act or s45Q of the Public Finance Amendment Act (the Treaty clauses). It was also at issue whether or not there was a sufficient nexus to justify the Courts intervening*. The ownership of dams and power stations isn’t at issue, it’s the MOM proposal and its effect on rights redress and recognition.

By putting the cart before the horse the case has forced the Crown to assume the water claim has succeeded and to argue that the Government would be able to require a private power company to pay a royalty or some other form of compensation.

No, the case isn’t concerned with private companies. The Crown will retain a majority shareholding in Mighty River Power. Crown Counsel argued that “the transfer and sale of shares does not affect relevant rights in that it does not impair the Crown’s ability to provide redress or rights recognition”. Private companies are irrelevant.

The "shares-plus" arrangement was immediately ruled out by the Government as contrary to commercial law and compromising the main purpose of asset sales: accountability to the share market.

Firstly, the idea of shares-plus was rejected because of perceived impracticalities. Secondly, asset sales had nothing to do with “accountability to the share market”. In the government's own words, asset sales will contribute to:

The Future Investment Fund to reinvest the proceeds of our partial share sales programme. We expect that selling a minority stake in these companies will return $5 billion to $7 billion to the Government. We’ll spend every dollar of this on more assets that New Zealanders need – such as schools and hospitals – without having to borrow more from offshore lenders to fund our infrastructure needs.

The writer continues:

The Maori Council and co-claimants could not convince High Court judge Ronald Young that shares-plus had merit. He reasoned that since Mighty River Power did not own the water that it had been given a right to use, a shareholding in the company would not give the iwi the recognition they sought, customary ownership of the water.

Iwi were not looking for the Court to establish Maori customary ownership of water. At paragrapgh [52] onwards Justice Young sets out the remedies sought and they are 1) an injunction against the partial privatisation of Mighty River Power and 2) a declaration that the Court should take no further action.

Lord Cooke, author of the guiding judgment on the Treaty's application, said it required each party to act "reasonably and in good faith within their respective spheres". Assets that generate hydro or geothermal electricity are unquestionably in the government sphere.

That quote is misattributed. It was Richardson J who delivered this line and the writer misunderstands what is meant by “spheres”. The use of “spheres” does not mean there is a dividing line between things Maori and things British, or things owned and controlled by Maori and things owned and controlled by the Crown. I interpret the quote as meaning that Maori and the Crown will act reasonably and in good faith in their respective roles in the Treaty relationship. Maori will maintain “a duty of loyalty to the Queen, full acceptance of her Government through her responsible Ministers, and reasonable cooperation” and the Crown will maintain the duties of partnership, active protection, redress and so on.

*See paragraph [166] of the judgment. 


  1. And even if the Government was selling 100% ownership in Mighty River, it would still be a public company, not a private.

  2. Its time to approach her Majesty the Queen to form our own Parliament one Treaty partner refuses to be precisely that a partner. The pretend Treaty partner wants to get rid of her any way the last 4 Prime ministers all said "Republic"

  3. Boy I miss the Editing teh Herald blog... you could do several of these every day Morgan and barely touch the sides.



1. Anonymous comments will be rejected. Please use your real name or a pseudonym/moniker/etc...
2. No personal abuse. Defamatory comments will be rejected.
3. I'll reject any comment that isn't in good taste.