Sunday, September 02, 2012

Right to water and the right to electricity


John Key was forced today to bow to the Waitangi Tribunal's ruling on water rights and delay the first privatisation for six months.

It is a win for the Maori Council, it is a win for the Aotearoa is Not for Sale movement and a win for the Keep Our Assets coalition. Annette Sykes, MANA Party President and leading lawyer in the claim for water rights describes it as a 'Titanic win for hapu water rights.'

As National Party blogger David Farrar acknowledges, 'This is a significant decision. While MRP will still be floated, the chance of having all five sales before the 2014 election is diminished.'

When Key seeks to sell off Mighty River Power in March 2013 he'll be forced to contend with a citizens' initiated referendum and no doubt the continuing Eurozone debt crisis. Already National has been forced to admit Solid Energy is unsaleable right now. Now the electricity companies sell off is bogged down. We can expect a sharpened debate within Maoridom now, between the pro-capitalist Iwi Leaders Group and working class Maori.

Some iwi leaders will be looking for a slice of the assets, but the majority of working class Maori won't benefit from iwi leaders accepting share parcels. As Hone Harawira said on Native Affairs, 'People are running dams all over the world and nobody's doing anything special. So the productivity isn't going to increase and the only way you are going to get that profit is price increases. And its going to be Maori, poor Maori from every tribe in the country, that get hurt.' If, as the Waitangi Tribunal recommends, a national hui of Maori is held in Waiwhetu in Lower Hutt on water rights over Summer this division is going to come to the fore.

Iwi and hapu should reject any compromise with John Key over water rights and not negotiate share parcels as compensation. Hone Harawira and MANA have called instead for, 'Full and open discussion within Maoridom to clarify exactly what those rights and responsibilities might be, and we call on iwi leaders to support that process by not entering into private negotiations with the Crown until their own people have been given the right to participate in one of the biggest decisions they may ever have to make.' If 88% of Maori oppose asset sales, then a slice of asset ownership is hardly fair compensation.

Socialist Aotearoa supports Maori water rights but we also support Maori and working class rights to electricity. The Dominion Post recently ran a story about a family who do not earn enough money to pay for electricity for a refrigerator. The elderly cannot afford to heat their homes. Remember Folole Muliaga, who died because her family could not afford the electricity needed for her home oxygen machine. Privatised companies charge power prices 12% or $265 higher than state owned companies.

The right to electricity is the right to warm homes, lighting, run fridges, radios and computers. Electricity is not a luxury good, it is needed in order to achieve basic human rights - a healthy standard of living, right to education, right to cultural involvement. Fuel poverty affects tens of thousands of New Zealanders and of course many Maori. It will become worse as the electricity companies are privatised.

In 2011, 30,000 New Zealanders had their power cut off. Lower Hutt couple Howard and Kahu were among these. "Several times Howard turned off the power at the mains when they were down to their last few dollars. Dinner for the couple's children was cooked on a barbecue. Kahu, who is dependent on a nebuliser, was admitted to hospital on one occasion when they ran out of electricity."

The Government has been forced to admit that Maori have water rights. The struggle ahead is to stop asset sales, higher power prices and ensure all New Zealanders, Maori, Pakeha, working class, have a right to electricity.

-Socialist Aotearoa

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