Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gerry Eckhoff: Fresh Water

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 Councils. 
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 the 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 their own vested interests despite being a farmer, fisher, irrigator, developer etc.

The co governance model therefore completely 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 model?

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 others - 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 the 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 Maori Party.

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.

If 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 their obvious value system around fresh water. It now begs the question of whether this or any future Government could for political advantage decide to allocate Forest and Bird a co governance role over land management.

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 the 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.


Anonymous said...

this will be a sad day for New Zealand and strongly reminds me of South Africa in days go by

BJ said...

It appears that our government is willing to kow tow to a sector of the population with the end result that will mean that those not in this sector will make charges to the rest of us.
Water is a free God given resource and falls where it wills.
No one has the right to impose a cost on the general public for the taking of water from a river or stream. Admittedly those of us in town or city areas are charged, bit only to cover the cost of these services.
By going down the track the Government is proposing is surely the start of a them and us division which will be a major negative for the majority of the population for the benefit of a few.

Unknown said...

I have 2 x 22500 litre water tanks that we fill thru rain water on our roof, I wonder which IWI I will have to pay to collect it, and will maori have the right to come onto my property and help themselves to it? I would welcome the chance to set the dogs onto them, and I've got back up incase they get past the dogs. Bring it on!!!

Anonymous said...

Is this a done deal? Has it been past through Government. Or is there still a possibility that it will not happen. What steps can be taken to keep this country rational and equally share such a natural resource as water with all people, only controlling the activities that could degrade its quality or quality. No ethnic background should have a independent say on such a resource. June