The news media hastened to air Ngai Tahu’s prompt rebuttal of Opposition leader Judith Collins claim that the Government would be giving the tribe an ownership stake in the South Island’s water and water assets.
It has not been so hasty to clearly explain the implications of what Ngai Tahu does want.
Collins referred to a document which – she said – meant South Island water services would be co-owned by Ngai Tahu and the Government.
Not so, was the prompt and tart rebuttal from the tribe and from central and local government leaders.
Co-governance maybe, co-ownership no.
But what does co-governance mean for the administrative structure?
At first blush, vital questions of democratic governance and accountability are raised.
In a press statement from Hobson’s Choice (not published by news media or posted by Scoop or Voxy) the implications are simply spelled out.
- One lot of co-governors would represent Ngai Tahu, a tribal business entity that claims the affiliation of 68,000 people,
- The other lot would represent 23 councils which “may represent 750,000 people”.
If you prefer to use 2018 census figures, they show Maori comprise 110,301 (10%) of a total South Island population of 1,104,531
The 23 local authorities, by the way, serve ALL of the people who live within their boundaries.
The tribe’s political ambitions are no secret – they are reflected in a claim in the High Court, reported on the Ngai Tahu website in an article headed Enough is enough – why Ngāi Tahu is suing the Crown over its waterways.
In a legal first, Ngāi Tahu has lodged a statement of claim in the High Court seeking recognition of rangatiratanga over its awa and moana, to address the ongoing degradation caused by the environmental mismanagement.
According to the article:
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as the representative body of Ngāi Tahu, and 15 tribal leaders, are asking the courts to make declarations that we have rangatiratanga over the wai māori (freshwater) of our takiwā, and that the Crown should engage with us to jointly design a better system to manage and care for our precious waterways.
Rangatiratanga is not ownership. Owning something means using it however you like.
Rangatiratanga as a concept and a practice encompasses rights, responsibilities and obligations. And that includes the obligation to do what we can to stop the continued degradation of our freshwater systems.
We are seeking to have the Government work and co-operate with us to design a better system for water management, one that protects our environment, while still ensuring wai māori for food production and development.
In her press statement, Collins said the Government was advancing plans to transfer 50 per cent of publicly-owned water assets in the South Island to Ngāi Tahu ownership.
She referenced a Department of Internal Affairs document which (she contended) presented the Government’s preferred option for Three Waters reform to 23 mayors and South Island iwi.
The proposal was to consolidate all water infrastructure across the South Island into one organisation.
This new Mainland water agency, which would assume ownership of all water assets and some council debt, was designed to be 50 per cent owned by Ngāi Tahu.
This would mean councils that had invested ratepayer money in pipes, wastewater and drinking water facilities for decades would have these assets taken away.
This is yet another example of Labour adopting a view that the Treaty of Waitangi promises ‘dual-governance’ of core government services like drinking water, health and local government, Ms Collins says.
“ … Labour has now decided the Treaty requires separate systems of governance and fifty-fifty ownership of resources with iwi, and it is making these changes before having a national conversation about whether this is actually what the Treaty decrees.”
Her comments were denounced by Ngai Tahu as “deceptive” and by Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins, who said they were aimed at creating “fear and division”.
There had been no discussion of Ngai Tahu co-ownership of water assets, “but even if there was, it wouldn’t be worth beating the drum and fear-mongering over”, Hawkins said.
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, chairman of a group representing Otago and Southland’s 10 city, district and regional councils in discussing the reforms, said it was “imperative we stick to the facts”.
“To come out and say it’s co-ownership or co-governance, it’s way too early to make calls like that.”
But if if it’s not co-ownership or co-governance, what are we talking about?
Cadogan did not explain what was being discussed – apparently because he does not know.
He did acknowledge the reforms were the biggest issue facing local government for at least a generation, and involved crucial issues of democracy and councils’ future liabilities, as well as Ngai Tahu’s role.
But he said councils remained “woefully short on detail” about what was being proposed, and he had called a meeting on May 28 with Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta, who has ministerial responsibility for the reforms, Ngai Tahu and Department of Internal Affairs officials to address that.
Dr Te Maire Tau, co-chairman of Ngai Tahu freshwater governance group Te Kura Taka Pini, said
“Ngai Tahu wants to design the structure of the new entity with the Crown, and share governance responsibilities.
“The tribe has a huge interest in the water infrastructure in the South Island. We’re like the rest of South Island communities, particularly because we’re rural, and we fundamentally don’t have clean drinking water.”
Co-governance would provide a safeguard against any future government that wanted to privatise the waters assets that were being transferred from councils, he said.
The PM was terse when asked in Parliament why the Department of Internal Affairs had presented “as a preferred option to 23 South Island mayors and iwi a document proposing co-ownership of South Island drinking water”?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: They did not.
She was nudged to tell a bit more.
Hon Judith Collins: Is the Prime Minister now telling the House that this document here, that was presented to 23 mayors and iwi and says, “Owners are the Canterbury councils and Ngāi Tahu, who are responsible for appointing representatives to the JGG.”—is that not what it says?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m happy to correct the member. I’m advised that that piece of work was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu. It was prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and it is not something that Ngāi Tahu or, of course, the Government, who did not commission it, have been pursuing.
Hon Judith Collins: So when the Prime Minister is now telling the House that this document is the fault of Ngāi Tahu, is she now saying it was not presented by the Department of Internal Affairs at the hui that were being conducted by it?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m actually rejecting the content of the question. I’m advised that it was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu. It’s not a question of blame.
Hon Judith Collins: Who presented the document to the 23 South Island mayors and iwi?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It was prepared and commissioned by PwC. It has not been pursued, I’m advised, by either Ngāi Tahu or, indeed, by the Government.
The PM did rule out joint ownership of water infrastructure in the South Island between Ngāi Tahu and councils, as suggested in the document Collins had brandished.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Public ownership has always been a bottom line, so not only have we ruled that out; Ngāi Tahu have ruled it out.
But the co-ownership issue remains to be sorted out, apparently.
David Seymour: Will the Prime Minister rule out co-governance of water infrastructure between Ngāi Tahu and councils, as also suggested in this document, under her Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have been very clear on ownership structure. When it comes to the issue of governance of water services, the Government, local government—and, yes, alongside local government there has been good engagement with iwi, and local government themselves have been driving that, too. Those decisions are yet to be made, but we are very clear on ownership.
Collins attempted to pin down the PM on the meaning of co-governance.
Hon Judith Collins: What does the Prime Minister believe is co-governance of drinking water in the South Island?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Ultimately, this has all been driven by the fact that in Havelock North we had people who got extraordinarily sick, and some who died, as a result of us not having consistent provision around either water regulation, making sure that regulations are upheld, or that our water infrastructure is sufficient. Currently, we have over the next 30 to 40 years $120 billion to $185 billion worth of investment required in infrastructure. What we are starting is a discussion with local government around how we deal with that significant infrastructure gap and investment when currently $1.5 billion, or $45 billion over the next 30 years, is how much local government is likely to invest. That is the problem we’re trying to address, and I would welcome the member’s engagement on that issue.
But when did the discussion start and who has been involved?
A DIA report on consultations on the Three Waters Reform Programme says that between September and October 2020, members of the Three Waters Reform Team and Taumata Arowai conducted a series of hui to engage with iwi, hapū and Māori throughout the country.
The meetings had been attended by over 300 representatives from many different iwi, hapū and Māori organisations.
The meetings had highlighted many emerging issues that have the potential to impact iwi, hapū and Māori throughout the country.
The issues aired in the report “have been themed according to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to reflect the matters as they relate to Māori as Treaty Partners”.
There was resounding support throughout the hui-ā-motu for a stronger partnership between tangata whenua and the Crown. Many attendees reflected, that if done well, this reform programme is an opportunity to develop/improve this relationship.
DIA heard that it needs to ensure tangata whenua are embedded as Treaty Partners from the very start, including mana whenua representation at every table, on boards and anywhere decisions will be made. It is important DIA alongside iwi, hapū and Māori work through rights, interests and entity ownership and governance, so the Department can identify the roles and responsibilities of all, as Treaty Partners, at these levels.
Yet at least one South Island mayor – along with most of the rest of the country, who have yet to be consulted – says he knows little about what is going on.
Something is shamefully wrong with the reform process and it most certainly is not democratic.
Bob Edlin is a veteran journalist and editor for the Point of Order blog HERE.