On Waitangi Day next year
the Prime Minister is to
announce that the responsibility for
the governance of fresh water in NZ
will soon be a shared responsibility between appointed Iwi and elected Regional
Currently, Regional Councils administer
the fresh water resource through NZ.
This single action will lead to the adulteration
of the process of representative
democracy within NZ.
After some years of consultation with high level Iwi leaders such as Sir Temu te Heuheu and Sir Mark Solomon,
the Prime Minister
will allow what he calls the rights
and interests of Iwi in fresh water to go out for “public consultation”. This
process will end where it starts - with
co governance of fresh water as already agreed to between Mr Key and
representatives of Iwi.
The Prime Minister is yet to spell out to all
the people of this country exactly which principle
he employs that allows Government to dispense with (elected) representative
democracy on this issue in favour of one sector group appointing their own representatives onto Regional councils
throughout NZ. Those appointed will pay no price for ignoring the public’s wishes.
Elected councillors must swear an oath of office ……. that you will faithfully and impartially and according to
best of your skill and judgement, execute and perform, in the best interests of (Otago) the
powers authorities and duties vested in, or imposed upon me …,”
By this oath of office a councillor is compelled to set aside
own vested interests despite being a farmer, fisher, irrigator, developer etc.
The co governance model
undermines those essential elements so crucial to engendering trust in our
democratic process. Iwi (presumably) will seek to ensure their
particular interest and values trump elected members determinations. Why else
would they demand this co governance
Sir Temu te Heuheu says that Maori rights and interests in fresh water such as
their cultural and economic interests, must rank
along side existing stake holder and public interests. They do already. Iwi
interests are already catered for as all ethnic Maori New Zealanders are
stakeholders and have their specific
interests recognized - along side all o thers
- by Regional Councils.
It is worth noting that irrigators rights to water – once enshrined in law (Miners Rights) are to be extinguished in 2021 to bring all water users rights under
the same constraints of the
RMA. This was silently achieved by a previous National Government without any
compensation to the affected right
holders. Governments can give and Governments can take.
Most rivers in
the South Island, (east of the
main divide) are used for irrigation and are in large measure a “private good”
There remains a large element of rent seeking opportunity for such an
extractive use which will not have escaped the
notice of such business savvy operators such as the
South Islands Ngai Tahu.
Despite claims to
the contrary Maori have never been able to show historic
“capture” or ownership of this resource over and above that which any citizen
can show. Try telling the irrigators
of the Maniototo that their intergenerational (cultural) attachment to the Taieri river or the
Sowburn river is by definition - inferior to – or is some how different to that
of someone of Maori decent.
The “values and allocation” of fresh water was at
heart of discussion between Iwi leaders and the
Crown for some years. These two issues are exactly the
same ones that Regional Councils have been grappling with and have gained a
very large measure of acceptance from the
wider public, including Iwi. It is unacceptable to now have to turn around and re
- litigate the very issues
(allocation and values) that have taken years of genuine consultation with all
interest groups and achieved a significant measure of success and acceptance,
simply because the National Government
seek political long term strategic advantage with the
The real threat of block voting by Iwi representatives within this co governance role proposed by Government will unquestionably erode if not ultimately corrupt
the process of representative democracy.
the Government believes in some form of delegative
democracy where Governments legislate to ensure the
duly elected representatives are required to undertake a passive role role
within council, then the Prime Minister should say so. He would then be invoking a form of kleptocracy where
interest groups of significance to Government are allowed (by Government decree)
to extend political power along with personal and collective wealth.
It is impossible to imagine Irrigation NZ /Federated Farmers or Fish and Game being allocated a co governance role over fresh water despite
obvious value system around fresh water. It now begs the
question of whe ther this or any
future Government could for political advantage decide to allocate Forest and Bird a co governance role over land
Our system of representative democracy, so costly acquired by previous generations must never be subjugated to expedient political largess.
There are occasions where we must defend our country’s successful governance processes of representative democracy and equality under
law - against our Government.
The Waitangi Day announcement will surely be such an occasion.
Former MP Gerry Eckhoff is an elected councillor on the Otago Regional Council.