Monday, October 31, 2022

Graham Adams: A taniwha rears its head in the Three Waters debate

A question many of us have been dying to ask about the Three Waters bill is: “Could the legislation allow a taniwha to stop the construction of a dam, or any other planned water infrastructure?”

It is not a frivolous question, as anyone who can remember the events of 2002 will attest. That year, work on the Waikato expressway, near Meremere, was halted and plans modified after Ngati Naho hapū claimed it was traversing the territory of a one-eyed taniwha, Karu Tahi.

An integral part of matauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), taniwha are mythical creatures said to live in or near lakes, rivers and the sea.

Ngati Naho said Karu Tahi lived in swampland near the path of the expressway for six months of the year. It had a second home in the Waikato River.

It appears that the Te Mana o te Wai statements, enabled by clauses buried in the bowels of the Water Services Entities Bill, do allow a possible role for taniwha in formulating water management policy.

The statements are effectively edicts that the nation’s more than 1200 iwi and hapū can issue at will. The Water Services Entity in their region, which controls the day-to-day management of water assets, must obey them.

In fact, anything an iwi or hapū decides is consistent with their view of matauranga Māori or tikanga (customs) qualifies as a basis for making a binding order concerning a freshwater body in their territory.

Last week in Parliament, Act MP Simon Court put the question to the Minister of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta: “Are spiritual beliefs, such as the existence of a taniwha on a bend in the river, permissible subject matter for Te Mana o te Wai statements, and, if so, why should taxpayer-funded entities be required to give effect to spiritual beliefs?”

Mahuta didn’t deny that possibility. Instead, she said Court had “sadly” mischaracterised “the intent of Te Mana o te Wai statements, which are intended to be practical applications for the way in which we can look after the intergenerational obligations towards our most precious resource, which is water”.

Unfortunately, Mahuta is being economical with the truth in implying that the Te Mana o Te Wai statements will be resolutely focused on “practical applications”.

Indeed, she gave the game away herself in Parliament on August 23, when she responded to Court’s description of Te Mana o te Wai.

He said it was “a concept that puts water as a spiritual entity — the value of water — above the needs of people and communities. That’s what it says if you go onto the Internal Affairs website and look up Te Mana o te Wai — water is a spiritual concept that is more important than the people and communities that it serves.

“I know, it’s amazing — 2022… hundreds of years since the scientific Enlightenment enabled us to grasp concepts such as the Earth going around the sun… and yet this is the spiritual nonsense which is being forced on New Zealanders and councils and communities rather than the obvious problems to solve, which is to fix water pipes, pump stations, and waste-water treatment plants.”In response, Mahuta tacitly admitted to the spiritual dimension of the concept at the heart of Three Waters: “There is some perception that has been promoted by the member that Te Mana o te Wai is just a spiritual aspiration [my emphasis]…”

Court, of course, is very aware of the indivisible interlocking of the practical and spiritual that informs the Māori view of water, but it suits Mahuta to emphasise the former and downplay the latter.

However, in August, the Māori King, Kiingi Tuheitia, did not hold back in making clear how important spiritual considerations are for Te Mana o te Wai, saying at the 16th anniversary celebrations of his coronation in Ngaruawahia:

“Te Mana o Te Wai belongs to us, to our iwi. It is about our relationship to our taonga [treasures] and about the wairua [spirit] of our water.”

Mahuta, of course, could have rejected Court’s question about taniwha being a “permissible subject matter for Te Mana o te Wai statements” but, tellingly, she didn’t.

In short, taniwha may well rear their heads in influencing water policy once the Water Services Entities Bill becomes law and iwi and hapū issue Te Mana o te Wai statements.

Non-Māori, who make up 84 per cent of the nation’s population, are denied the right to issue such edicts — no matter what their own views may be on water management, or indeed the spiritual beliefs they may hold about it.

Simon Court is certainly zeroing in with a laser focus on the significance of the Te Mana o Te Wai statements — which is more than can be said for most of our mainstream journalists. They appear unable — or unwilling — to see beyond the provisions for co-governance at the over-arching strategic level of the four Regional Representative Groups.

It is now widely understood that “co-governance” means equal numbers of representatives from mana whenua and councils forming the groups which will oversee the Three Waters set-up in each of the four vast regions the country’s water assets are being divided into.

However, journalists continue to ignore the massive power handed to iwi below this level — largely through Te Mana o te Wai statements. As a result, they can happily dismiss co-governance as an “inconsequential sideshow” (Bernard Hickey at The Kaka) and an “absurd complication” that has made the reforms “politically toxic” (Pattrick Smellie at BusinessDesk).

It’s true that if Te Mana o te Wai statements are ignored and an analyst’s gaze is fixed solely on how Three Waters will function as an infrastructure project — which is how Hickey and Smellie, as business journalists, appear to view it — it is very easy to see co-governance at the strategic level as a “sideshow” or “complication”.

But, in fact, co-governance at the Regional Representative Group level is just one element of the comprehensive control of water being granted to iwi.

The means of control are laced throughout the Three Waters structure — including requirements for collective “knowledge of, and experience and expertise in relation to… the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi; and perspectives of mana whenua, mātauranga, tikanga, and te ao Māori”.

That, as it turns out, is a very exclusive club, which will give iwi a chokehold on who is appointed to run the nation’s water infrastructure.

In fact, below the overarching level, it is not co-governance at all; it is direct iwi governance — and Te Mana o Te Wai statements are the primary mechanism for enabling that.

The fact is the scope of the statements is unbounded and they offer iwi untrammelled power.

Taniwha weren’t the only topic that Mahuta avoided in Parliament last week. She also wouldn’t answer Simon Court’s questions asking why only iwi and hapū could make such edicts.

He said: “Why does this bill afford these rights [to make binding Te Mana o te Wai statements] only to Māori with an interest in fresh water and not to communities, businesses, and farmers who rely on fresh-water bodies for their livelihoods?”

The minister’s roundabout reply could be distilled into a claim that everyone — including farmers — will benefit from Te Mana o Te Wai statements because iwi are always thinking about the common good (including that of future generations).

Basically, iwi are wise custodians and what is good for Māori is good for everyone.

As Mahuta put it: “Te Mana o te Wai statements are developed by iwi mana whenua groups, but not for the exclusive benefit of Māori. In fact, it’s for the combined benefit of communities, the environment, and in the way that we think about the intergenerational challenge of looking after our most precious resource: water — everyone will benefit.”

That 16 per cent of the population will get to decide exclusively what is best for the remaining 84 per cent in the management of water and water infrastructure — built up over many generations by ratepayers and taxpayers, both Māori and non-Māori alike — is outrageously divisive and entirely undemocratic.

But here we are.

Graham Adams is an Auckland-based freelance editor, journalist and columnist. This article was originally published by and is published here with kind permission.


Unknown said...

Keep up the good work of informing us

Anonymous said...

Quite staggering to read this.
Water controlled by a select group of people (whom all are of the same race) and they get to decide if a mythical creature happens to be active in and around the water they will control.

What part of that ..
a. sounds like a right load of tosh
b. is complete tosh
c. a plan put forward by a bunch of tosher's

NZ deserves everything it gets if they can be sucked in and vote this in.

Just heading out to pick Bananas off the trees, like all good republics!

EP said...

I am so glad you brought this up Graham - a very valid point. I hope this article will be widely disseminated and seriously discussed.

It's not entirely apposite, but Mahuta reminds me of a saying from my own culture. "When I use a word, "said Humpty-Dumpty, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Robert Arthur said...

I ahve it on reliable authority that in the 1950s at the top of the Brynderwyns was a small roadside waterfall reputed to be infested by a taniwha. In the less hurried manner of the time it was the custom for many to toss in a sixpence for good luck and safe jurney. I worry about taniwha from the same whanau but with more modern demanding demeanourand with a meter. Donate several millions or no water....

Geoff Clasby said...

It's all in the detail. There deceit knows no bounds.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Graham. Imagine if a Taniwha arose from the bowels of Parliament and addressed Mahuta in English.
"If you proceed with 3 Waters all the Taniwha will rise up across the land. They will be restless and destructive and people will be crying out for mercy. Everyone will know that you, Mahuta, did this."

DeeM said...

It's quite staggering that a NZ government should bare-facedly promote the view that ONLY Maori are capable of caring for our water resources, under the guise of cultural belief.

They, and only they, have the power to issue commands which must be obeyed. None of that fits with a democratic structure, designed to represent ALL NZders.

They know it is simply a way of securing unlimited power and wealth for a small minority over a basic human necessity.

Absolutely disgraceful! Mahuta, Ardern, Jackson & Co are simply not fit-for-purpose as democratically elected representatives. They clearly do not understand why they were voted in with an outright majority. They have deceived NZ and hopefully will be rewarded with a massive defeat in 2023.

*** said...

There appears to be a strong belief in NZ along the lines of: “If the government implement these racist apartheid policies then we will vote them out and everything will get back to normal again”. The “She’ll be right” approach is so entrenched among good NZers. I’m sorry to say this, but NZers are massively indoctrinated. Those few with enquiring minds should be reading the history of Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. The current actions in NZ should terrify you.

I actively worked for decades in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Trust me, you can’t just reverse this stuff with the stroke of a pen. She won’t be right. These are problems which will take NZ many decades at best to reverse.

Anna Mouse said...

The summary from Mr. Adams that 16 per cent of the population will get to decide exclusively what is best for the remaining 84 per cent is all anyone needs to know if they care about democracy vesus apartheid.

Democracy has not changed in NZ but if you look back in history you will find this thinking in almost every despotic, tyranical and apartheid driven ideological countries.

Let's not let New Zealand be an new apartheid state. This is not even a converation we should be having, period.

Sadly we do not have even that because the media like the government have been gaslighting the country causing only the few who take notice to demand accountability, but we still get crickets.

The only conclusion is that all labour politicians and all MSM journalists are happy to be a part of a new apartheid nation.

Trevor said...

These comments and the current debate about Tikanga call to mind a despairing cry made by a friend of mine, an engineer and partner in a major NZ firm, after a resource management hearing that he had been a witness in. After all the rational and science based arguments had been deployed, he said, Maori would produce some ancient "expert" to call in aid some secret and unpublished mumbo jumbo to save the day. Nothing has changed.
Trevor Savage

Anonymous said...

Well put Graham. Bravo. You have left me reaching for my tinfoil hat and the sign for my door that says, "Come in - I'm already disturbed". Unelected officials who favour only one sector of the community, are indeed unrepresentative of the democratic process, and can only lead to separatism in other fields. "God Defend New Zealand."

Allan said...

At the National Iwi Leaders Chairs Forum in Taupo where they slammed the alternative to Three Waters, Chairperson Ngarimu Blair said that "Our voice must be heard at the table" I can re-assure him that their voice has been heard, and that is why Wayne Brown is the new Auckland Major.

Anonymous said...

Behold the awesome power of the 'R' word, for it alone has enabled a tiny minority within a small (but mostly assimilated) group, to now openly demand the return of the country from the hands of the thieving colonialists. Given our envied multicultural democracy surely this story is about some other (perhaps third world) country, but certainly not NZ?