Privatising the forests
Privatisation is about as popular in the present political environment as Clint Rickards doing stand-up in a home for battered women. No airport shares must be sold to Canadians. No Air New Zealand shares must be sold to New Zealanders. And the likes of TVNZ, NZ Post, Kiwibank, Solid Energy, Landcorp, Ontrack, Broadcast Communications Ltd, MetService Airways Corporation and the state-owned power generators ... well, don't even think about it. Keeping state assets in state hands is supposed to be a "public good," no matter how badly mismanaged the asset.
There are people who will die in a ditch to fight any privatisation of state assets. That is, any privatisation except one. On this one they have a blind spot. It's when state assets are given to people with brown faces as payment for things we haven't done.
Note that $400 million of state forestry assets are being given to Maori, not to Maoris -- that is, they are being given as one lump to seven central north island tribal leaders, not as shares to individual iwi members (not to mention the $40 million that lawyers involved have pulled down for doing the deal). Just as with previous "treaty settlements" that handed over forests and fisheries to a Browntable of tribal leaders whose snouts are raw and bellies full from years of feeding from the trough, control and privilege is being handed over to a those at the top tribal table, leaving individual iwi members unlikely to see any benefit.
This is the Maori version of trickle down.
Frankly, whatever the injustice of taxpayers paying tribalists for things they didn't do, I'm all in favour of taking land out of the commons, and taking state assets out of state hands -- removing assets from the state's cold dead hands by any means necessary -- but there's no point in simply transferring assets from one munted bureaucracy to another.
A property right has been created where it didn't previously exist, and that's a good thing. But yet another opportunity has been lost here to take tribalism out of the mix altogether. Instead of being detribalised, Maori are being retribalised -- and this is to no-one's benefit but the tribal leaders themselves. The answer would have been to transfer title NOT to tribal leaders in one lump, or to iwi as a whole, but to individuals in the form of transferable shares that would give them control over the asset they've been granted. Those who've been awarded the shares will be able to do anything they wish with their own share -- which will give an accurate indication of how much they really value this land -- and as Ronald Coase points out (for those who object to privatisations effected in this manner), it's in the nature of things that land titles so created will eventually tend to end up in the hands of those who most value them. All that's needed is to start the process. [More on the process proposed here.]
Everybody would win if things had been effected in such a fashion -- except of course for the Knights of the Brown Table for whom fame and fortune now await.