By Alex Tarrant
Prime Minister says there is a "very complex web" of issues to be spelt out this afternoon regarding the government's decision on whether or not to forge ahead with the partial sale of Mighty River Power later this year.
"And there are other actions that flow from that," Key said on TV One's Breakfast programme on Monday morning.
Cabinet will today decide on whether to delay the sale while the issue of Maori rights in the natural assets used by Mighty River and two other state-owned power companies, Genesis and Meridian Energy, is addressed.
The decision follows a recommendation from the Waitangi Tribunal on August 24 that the sales be delayed.
The government has been hoping to sell up to 49% of Mighty River by early December. It wants to raise NZ$5-7 billion over the next five years by selling up to 49% of Mighty River, Meridian, Genesis, and coal miner Solid Energy, as well as selling down its three-quarter stake in Air New Zealand.
This morning the NZ Herald reports the Maori Council, which took the issue to the Waitangi Tribunal earlier this year, saying it was geared up for court action to block the sale if Key announced the Mighty River float would go ahead this year.
It also reports an investment-banking source involved with the Mighty River float saying, "my pick is it goes ahead."
Fairfax reports government insiders not ruling out a "short to medium" delay for the Mighty River float, which it says could still allow for a float by the end of the year, or mean a delay into early next year.
Key has previously said the next window for a float of one of the power companies would be in March/April. Key has said the government would only look to float one company in any of the two windows it has each year (with the other being October/November), and that it would be prepared to float two companies in any one year.
Water rights, ownership
Key said the government was dealing with two issues in its response to the Waitangi Tribunal, to be released around 4pm on Monday.
One regarded the rights and interests of Maori in water, while the second was whether selling a minority stake in an SOE in anyway affected the ability of Maori to register those rights and interests. On the latter, Key said the government's view was the partial sales did not affect that ability.
The government also held the view that no one owned water.
“Our government for four years has recognised some of those rights and interests, and previous governments have done that as well – things like co-management of the Waikato River, general health of the river," Key said.
“There will be some who believe that Maori rights and interests are much more significant than that. People are free to have that view, [but] that doesn’t mean that any government, mine or any others, has to recognise those rights or interests, unless they’re proven I guess," he said.
Key said the decision to be announced on Monday afternoon was a complex one.
“It’s important to understand, if somebody wanted to take legal action against the government, we can’t stop that. It’s for the courts to decide whether they want to hear an application to them," he said.
“We’d hope we’d win, if that’s the situation."
'Mixed ownership will work better'
Key would not be drawn on whether problems facing the companies might reduce their values. See more here in Brian Gaynor's Weekend Herald column.
“The government’s view has been that these companies will operate better if they have a combination of government owners and private sector owners," Key said.
“We’ve seen as part of [the due diligence process for the sales], for instance, that Solid Energy’s pricing of coal had been quite high," he said.
“It’s one of those examples where we say, rightfully I think, that when the government is the sole owner of an asset, it’s not necessarily always the best owner. Sometimes it’s better when you have external analysis, external private shareholders also having input into that," Key said.
“That’s why we think the mixed-ownership model works," he said.