Monday, 3 September 2012

Undiscovered resources do not constitute wealth [updated]

The Waitangi Tribunal says that Maori can own water and do own water—and the government should “negotiate” before selling shares in power generators.

I argue that water can be owned, that water rights can be proven, and that anyone who is able to prove suitable attachment to a resource is entitled to lay a claim to it under common law. Which is a good thing.

Strange however that the Maori Council’s claim that iwi own river water only came about when a Waitangi windfall was in the offing. Before that the resource lay unclaimed.

That is telling.

Because not only was the resource not being used both continuously (as proof of ownership) and unchallenged (as if it were owned)—both conditions being requirements for recognising property rights under common law—the fact water could be a resource to iwi for power generation had not even been recognised. And nor could it.

And as Gary Judd argues, undiscovered resources like this do not constitute wealth.

UPDATE: John Key’s only programme for this term involved half-selling a small number of assets. And now they won’t be..


  1. The rights to the water belong to the power generating company.

    Before they built their dam and started generating power,the water was of little value. Indeed it could be argued that without the dam to control it the water could in fact become a liability.

    Copper ore is just rocks until smelted.

  2. Richard McGrath3 Sep 2012, 16:36:00

    Peter, common law property rights as applied to the Maori claims on various resources would be a very suitable topic for you to address at the coming Libz conference...


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