Friday, April 21, 2023

Graham Adams: Labour’s Three Waters refresh is a tragi-comedy

The government’s disdain for democracy is a gift to National and Act.

Last week, we watched the Prime Minister rebrand the contentious Three Waters project with a name so banal it is surprising he didn’t fall asleep while announcing it. “Affordable Water Reform” is, in essence, a Post-It note to stick on your computer while you struggle to come up with an arresting title. If you suggested “Affordable Water Reform” to your colleagues in an advertising agency they’d assume you were joking.

There’s a lot that is risible in Labour’s ongoing attempts to find a Three Waters arrangement the nation might even grudgingly accept. The Water Services Entities Act was passed in December — and within hours a second bill that included extensive amendments to the first was introduced to Parliament. In fact, that bill is as long as the Act it seeks to amend. Now, the government will introduce and pass further legislation to implement the changes Hipkins announced last Thursday — as well as “associated matters” — all before this year’s election.

At the press conference held inauspiciously in a car park in Greytown, Hipkins also attempted to amend his own party’s history. Apparently, everyone has misunderstood all along what co-governance actually means. The Regional Representative Groups — which have now metastasised from four overarching strategic groups to 10 — aren’t examples of co-governance after all, according to the Prime Minister. This despite the extremely inconvenient fact that he, and Labour’s most influential ministers — including Nanaia Mahuta, Kieran McAnulty, Grant Robertson and the recently departed Jacinda Ardern — have repeatedly referred to the RRGs, with their 50:50 split of mana whenua and council representatives, as examples of co-governance.

Inevitably, this bid to magic away co-governance has resulted in a glorious muddle, with a Newshub headline declaring “Hipkins rejects [that the] new water reforms include co-governance” while 1News announced “Three Waters reset: McAnulty explains why co-governance stays”.

The Prime Minister and McAnulty faced the media together in the car park. Hipkins promoted him from Associate Minister to Minister of Local Government in late January because it was clear that Nanaia Mahuta’s handling of Three Waters had become electorally toxic. She retained her portfolio of Foreign Affairs, however, and, despite her well-known aversion to travel, has barely been seen since. It appears the minister has suddenly developed a taste for long flights, high-level meetings and foreign hotels. Rumours that she has been locked in the basement of the Beehive until after the election are entirely mischievous.

McAnulty has shone brightly in comparison with his predecessor — not least because he actually answers questions rather than answering a question that hadn’t been asked, which Mahuta had turned into an art form.

Lean and wiry as a whippet, McAnulty stares unwaveringly ahead while speaking without moving his lips any more than is strictly necessary. You get the impression he’s happy to be seen as a hard man. Certainly, his cultivated persona of a cross between good keen man Barry Crump and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor lends itself to the perception of him being capable of tough in-fighting, which won’t do him any harm. No doubt he will be hoping against hope that most voters won’t see him and the Prime Minister as having slavishly kowtowed to the demands of the Māori caucus.

That hope would have been more plausible if Waikato-Tainui grandee Tuku Morgan had managed to contain his effervescent glee and had not immediately performed a victory dance for media, declaring he was “over the moon” and that iwi were “euphoric” with the changes to Three Waters.

Morgan was happy to boast that when he and other iwi representatives had met ministers Kieran McAnulty, Willie Jackson, Kiritapu Allan and Kelvin Davis a week earlier and presented their immovable demands, they had been warmly received. Their three bottom lines concerned “Partnership Boards”; the preservation of Entity A incorporating Auckland and Northland; and the status of Te Mana o te Wai statements. All these demands were met.

Morgan crowed: “Those are the three points we debated with the ministers and we got what we wanted. I am very, very happy.”

Act’s David Seymour characterised the situation as — Māori caucus 1; Hipkins 0. He said: “Co-government remains part of Three Waters because the Prime Minister was either too scared to stare down the powerful Māori caucus, or he did and he lost.

“This shows how powerful the Māori caucus is and that Chris Hipkins has no control over them. If Hipkins had control over of them, he would have at least dropped the unpopular and divisive co-government element of Three Waters. Instead, Māori MPs are riding roughshod over him.”

If this view becomes widespread, it will be disastrous for Labour. After Hipkins sent Mahuta tumbling down the Cabinet rankings from No 8 to 16 in late January, his apparent willingness to keep the Māori caucus on a much tighter rein than Jacinda Ardern ever managed was an important factor in his surge in popularity. And after his announcement there would be imminent changes to the Three Waters programme, many had high hopes he would deal decisively with the most controversial aspects of Three Waters, particularly co-governance. Those hopes have been shattered.

A perceived victory by the Māori caucus will have ramifications far beyond the popularity of Three Waters (to use its dead-name, as most will). It will signal to voters that if the Labour Party is re-elected with Hipkins at the helm of a coalition it will continue to give way at every turn to the Māori nationalists — not only in its own caucus but also in the Greens and Te Pāti Māori (if either or both make it back into Parliament).

John Tamihere — a former co-leader of Te Pāti Māori and now its president — did nothing to allay such fears when he told Newshub Nation in the weekend that the debate around co-governance was simply misguided. “The right to the asset called water is still a customary entitlement to all Māori,” he said. “Māori rightly say, ‘How do we get co-governance when we own 100 per cent of it?’ The real issue is how do the Pākehās get into the room [via co-governance]?” Evidently, for Te Pāti Māori, co-governance is simply a way station towards full control of water at every level.

And any lingering hopes that Labour might defend democracy disappeared when McAnulty was interviewed by Jack Tame on Q&A on Sunday. Asked whether he agreed that the RRGs, with their equal numbers of iwi and council representatives, are “not strictly a one-person, one-vote model”, McAnulty said firmly, “Yes”. In his mind, democracy with equal suffrage seems to be an academic concept that is incompatible with honouring the Treaty.

Voters, of course, have never been asked to approve such a profound constitutional shift. Yet it is clear that we now have “democracy with New Zealand characteristics” sanctioned at the highest levels of government.

All this opens a clear path for National and Act to legitimately damn any prospective Labour / Greens / Te Pāti Māori coalition as the sworn enemies of democracy — at least of the traditional “one person, one vote of equal value” kind that New Zealanders have cherished since suffrage was extended to women in 1893. It’s obvious now that a win for any combination of the three main parties of the left will further embed the mechanisms and policies of an ethno-state.

Although McAnulty told Newsroom’s Jenna Lynch that while he didn’t think Three Waters would be an election issue, he also said voters have “a clear choice at this election”. National’s proposed water management model, he said, “doesn’t have mana whenua representation; our one does”. A general election is rarely fought on a single issue but this is so important to the nation’s future it will undoubtedly be pivotal.

One consequence of Hipkins’ and McAnulty’s clumsy attempts to diminish the importance of “co-governance” in Three Waters is that it invites a focus on the power and scope of Te Mana o te Wai statements. These are edicts that only iwi and hapū can issue and — as Mahuta and the Department of Internal Affairs have affirmed — the Water Services Entities are obliged to give effect to them. They give Māori untrammelled power over freshwater and coastal and geothermal water. Although many believe the statements only relate to the purity and health of water, that is far from the truth.

Anything an iwi or hapū thinks is relevant to Māori wellbeing — whether in employment opportunities, investment or spiritual matters — can be the subject of a Te Mana o te Wai statement. In fact, the last category may even include accommodating the presence of a taniwha. When Act MP Simon Court asked Mahuta last October: “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?”, she did not deny that possibility.

Former mayor of Kaipara Dr Jason Smith, who was appointed to Mahuta’s Working Group on Three Waters in late 2021 and has been a consistent critic of the statements’ undemocratic nature, responded to Hipkins’ and McAnulty’s announcement last week by drawing attention once again to their role.

Describing the edicts as “the very core, the citadel at the heart of the Three Waters programme”, he wrote: “Te Mana o te Wai statements are in a league of their own within the Three Waters reforms, far removed from the already-controversial co-governance arrangements, or entity size and shape….

“Te Mana o Te Wai statements are legislated to cover every square centimetre of all the land, including under every home, farm or place of business as well as many kilometres out to sea. Simple and powerful, whatever these statements contain must be put into effect, no questions asked. The problem is only some parts of society are allowed to write them, though they affect us all. There is no co-governance in the simple truth that Māori only may write Te Mana o te Wai statements. There is nothing “co-“ about this, it’s a different type of constitutional arrangement from anything we’ve seen before.”

Dr Smith predicted the undemocratic and divisive nature of the statements “sets up everyone for civil unrest in the future”.

Given that the statements have been almost entirely ignored by mainstream journalists, it was surprising that Hipkins felt the need to mention them in last week’s announcement. Discussing co-governance, the Prime Minister said: “There is also an ability for Te Mana o te Wai statements [to be issued by iwi]. And we’ve introduced an equivalent for other significant interested parties in water use to also have a say in that.”

The operating principles of the Water Services Entities, which manage day-to-day operations on the ground, already include engaging with the communities they serve but they are under no obligation to act on their recommendations.

Tuku Morgan made it clear, however, that no matter what legislative amendments are introduced, Te Mana o te Wai statements will lose none of their force. He told the NZ Herald: “Even though there’s a provision for communities to have a priority status, it will not in any way shape or form, overshadow, minimise, or compromise the standing of Te Mana o te Wai statements being provided by iwi and hapū.”

The fact Hipkins referred to Te Mana o te Wai statements, albeit briefly, means news has reached his ears that they are an issue that needs addressing publicly. But he’ll have to do a lot better than glossing over them — or offering a sop to the 84 per cent of the population excluded from issuing them — if he hopes to placate the growing number of voters who are aware of their scope and deeply undemocratic nature.

Labour strategists should be very worried. Co-governance is already electoral dynamite but Te Mana o te Wai statements are thermonuclear devices in comparison.

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


Robert Arthur said...

Sadly I suspect the greta majority of the public have only th vaguest notion of what is afoot. And until the likes of the above appear in msm that will continue. About the nearest so far is a couple of articles in the Herald moderately critical of co governance in general. Whilst patsy letters from the other side regularly appear Letters to Editor critical of co governace and the associted inevitable effective maori total control do not appear. Only a few Aucklanders local to Mt Albert have taken a close interest in the ineffcient co governance disaster Tupuna Maunga Authority, and probably few of them see the direct link of problems with 50/50 co governance.

Anna Mouse said...

Well said, sadly most New Zealanders are in the dark because they have never been spoken of.

Polticians like Mahuta and particularly Ardern who isolated herself from it deliberately along with the legacy media who deliberately did not dig nor query have kept the citizens in that darkness.

For a moment I thought maybe Hipkins realises that he is destroying democracy and has finally spoken of them? Who knows?

It sadly is little and late but just maybe now with some effort the TMOTW will become the grenade necessary to keep New Zealands long, histroic liberal democracy intact.

If not, the citizens face a long dark era of apartheid that will like everywhere apartheid is found end in civil unrest.

When the Labour government blatantly ignored the unprecidented 88,ooo written submissions on the legislation and then tried to entrench it in a sly cunning way they proved they are traitors to our democracy.

Peter Young said...

Superbly put Graham, and a so very apt closing analogy.

New Zealander's would have to be brain-dead to think this was good proposal and it just proves how powerful that Maori caucus is. It needs reining-in and there's only one way to ensure that. Ironic that it will be a Maori (part, as they all are), that will do that.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how long before the tap water gets switched off for set times during the day or night. How on earth will all these groups and entities agree on anything? The unelected 50% will have their own interests and their own pockets to line, and no one can stop them as they are not accountable to anyone. Any noddy can see that this is a disater waiting to happen. And I hope that these ministers who do not believe in democracy refrain from wearing poppy's on anzac day, as this would be hypocritical.

Ross said...

"The government’s disdain for democracy is a gift to National and Act."

So very true Graham, but will they do anything with it? Seymour maybe, but I doubt Luxon and his advisors will actually recognise it as a gift. They have been given multiple gifts like this in the last couple of years but they are either blind to them or are too scared to say anything ---or put more bluntly, they are hopeless in such situations.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think
National would do anything very different? After all Luxon has just trashed Joseph Mooney and stands behind Tama Potaka and co-governance by any other name.

Anonymous said...

Joseph Mooney is correct in stating that Article II of Te Tiriti grants “tino rangatiratanga” to ALL New Zealanders..

Article I of James Busby’s final English language draft dated 4 February 1840 and translated into Maori by the missionary Henry Williams and his son (both fluent Maori speakers resident in NZ for almost 20 years) for presentation to the Chiefs on 5 February reads:

"The chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes and the other chiefs who have not joined the confederation, cede to the Queen of England for ever the entire Sovreignty [sic] of their country."

That wipes out the Declaration of Independence of the Confederation of the United Tribes [He Whakaputanga] and the assertion that Maori had a sovereign nation state prior to 6 February 1840.

Article II reads:

“The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the chiefs and the tribes [the natives] and to all the people of New Zealand [the white pre-Treaty settlers who held land according to tikanga, meaning for as long as 'their' tribe could defend the locality against outsiders], the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property ..."

Everybody needed the assurance from the incoming sovereign that existing private property rights would be protected.

If ‘Tino Rangatiratanga’ most broadly means “the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship’ as claimed today by Treatyists, it was certainly not being used that way in Te Tiriti in 1840.

In the context of Te Tiriti, the words narrow in their meaning to be a guarantee of property rights in land and other property [the correct translation of ‘taonga’ in 1840] to both the natives and pre-Treaty settlers alike.

It is thus impossible to construe Article II as a blueprint for the Crown to govern the settlers according to Article I and the chiefs to continue to govern their tribes according to Article II.

If Te Tiriti was intended as a Constitutional document providing for spheres of co-governance as asserted today by the deluded, there would have been no mention of the white pre-Treaty settlers in Article II.

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the inconvenient references to “all the people of New Zealand” and to property rights in Article II, an open-ended co-governance arrangement would surely read: “the Queen of England HER HEIRS AND SUCCESSORS [emphasis added to additional wording] confirms and guarantees to “the chiefs THEIR HEIRS AND SUCCESSORS [emphasis added to additional wording] ..."

The recorded words of the chiefs on the lawn at Waitangi and elsewhere when Te Tiriti was debated make it clear they were well-aware their acceptance of Hobson would place him in authority over them, and that behind Hobson was Queen Victoria.

Article III reads:

"In return for the cession of their Sovreignty [sic] to the Queen, the people of New Zealand shall be protected by the Queen of England and the rights and privileges of British subjects will be granted to them.

In signing Te Tiriti, all Maori – including the chiefs – became not ‘partners’ but EQUAL SUBJECTS of the Crown in a nation state the white settler would henceforth create where none had existed before.

EQUAL SUBJECTS means INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS OF CITIZENSHIP – nothing more and nothing less.

Te Tirit cannot possibly be construed as a guarantee of perpetual group rights to brown supremacist part-Maori (with an ever-declining Maori blood quantum).

It is ludicrous and intellectually incoherent to propose that the cession of sovereignty in Article I, restated in Article III, would be countermanded by a reservation of chiefly authority in Article II.

“Sovereignty” means “the supreme power or authority.”

It is thus Constitutionally impossible for a sovereign to be in ‘partnership’ with subjects.

It is also clearly impossible for ordinary Maori to enjoy “the rights and privileges of British subjects” if still subject to tribal-style rule by chiefs.

On 6 February 1840, one party [the Crown] absorbed and digested the parties of the other : side [the chiefs and those whom they represented] rendering Te Tiriti from the moment it was signed analogous to a used table napkin after a meal, and other than as a historical artefact, about as relevant.