Wrong state asset being sold first, tribunal told

6:06 am on 13 July 2012

A witness for the Maori Council's water rights case before the Waitangi Tribunal says the Crown has picked the wrong state-owned enterprise to partially privatise first.

An urgent tribunal hearing is being held as the Government prepares to sell up to 49% of state-owned energy companies Genesis Energy, Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power and Solid Energy and reduce the Crown's shareholding in Air New Zealand.

The first partial sale will be of Mighty River Power, due in September this year depending on market conditions.

The Maori Council has filed claims seeking recognition of water rights and a recommendation to freeze Crown share sales in the state-owned assets.

Council witness Steven Michener, who has a background in investing and consulting, appeared before the tribunal session at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt on Thursday.

He said there is too much uncertainty surrounding who owns the water that Mighty River Power pushes through its turbines, and because it's unclear who has title to the water, there may be other assets the Government could put on the market.

A member of the Waitangi Tribunal asked if it would be better to first sell a partial stake in coal mining firm Solid Energy. Mr Michener said he thought it could be an attractive option.

Australian energy executive and businessman Philip Galloway said Solid Energy is a significant user of water in its mines and may or may not come under the water case.

Mr Galloway said it could be better to float shares in Air New Zealand first.