Chris Whinlayson

The Idiot[cy] Goes On

The Idiot[cy] Goes On

16 Mar 2017
Once the Te Awa Tupua (Wanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill becomes law, the Wanganui River is to gain its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. But what does this actually mean? Will it have all the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else?
WHAT IS A LEGAL PERSON?
A legal person has all the rights, duties and liabilities of a person but is not a natural person – a human being. When it comes to understanding the river’s new rights and responsibilities, it’s easiest to think of it like you’d think of a company.
DOES IT HAVE HUMAN RIGHTS?
In New Zealand, legal persons, like companies, have guaranteed rights just like actual people (natural people). The same way that a natural person has a right to freedom of expression, so does a company that owns a newspaper. This principle will now apply to the river. Not all of the rights will apply but any right that it makes sense for a legal person to have, the river will have as well. This will include things like the right to natural justice.
WILL IT PAY TAXES?
Basically the same tax rules apply to it as apply to other legal persons. It probably depends on what it does, but if it starts supplying goods or services, it will have the same GST responsibilities as a company would.
WHO PAYS FOR IT?
The settlement’s total cost to the NZ taxpayer is $81 million. $30m for the establishment of Te Korotete (a fund to support the health and wellbeing of the river); $200,000 per year for 20 years for Te Pou Tupua (the “face” of the river, or the two natural persons appointed to act for the river); $430,000 for the establishment of Te Heke Ngahuru (a strategy established to ensure the future environmental, social, cultural and economic health and well being of Te Awa Tupua).
Sources: Stuff, Lawyer Graeme Edgeler and New Zealand Government settlement summary.

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