Thursday, April 20, 2023

Point of Order: Tamihere once wanted Auckland’s Watercare to be partly privatised .....

....and now he says NZ’s water is owned by Maori

Not for the first time, Maori Party president John Tamihere has asked who owns the water? and provided the politically contentious answer: Maori do:

Writing for Stuff, he declaimed:

What is bizarre to me is that people who have stolen an asset are now having a debate about the rights over it.

We reject co-governance because we want to have the appropriate conversation about the elephant in the room: how did Pākeha get to the table on a 100% Māori-owned asset?

Richard Harman, in an article for Politik in 2020, said the Government had committed to a programme that would end up being the most radical upheaval of local Government since the Auckland city merger.

This time around it won’t be the Councils themselves that merge but rather their water facilities.

Among the several issues raised by the Government’s plans, Harman reported:

Only yesterday, the co-leader of the Maori party, John Tamihere called for an “open, honest” conversation about water.

“Who owns the water?” he asked.

“ It’s a very simple question with a very simple answer.

“Māori own the water because our customary native title has never been extinguished.”

This is a somewhat more provocative position than the stance he took in 2019, when Tamihere was stomping for the Auckland mayoralty. His campaign was reported to involve “a number of staunch positions on issues.

He has Matt McCarten and Michelle Boag behind him. This will explain the slightly jerky impression of his policy positions. They seem to veer from the left to the right, from solving the housing crisis to privatising large swathes of Auckland’s publicly owned infrastructure.

His announcement yesterday, that he wanted to privatise half of Watercare, cause a number of jaws throughout the region to drop.

Todd Niall reported for Stuff that Tamihere wanted to sell 49 per cent of the Auckland Council-owned water company.

Tamihere said the proceeds of the partial sale of Watercare could deliver cash to build much-needed infrastructure.

The announcement came in the first head-to-head debate with mayor Phil Goff at a business breakfast on Auckland’s North Shore.

Phil Goff countered that any sale would put “water bills through the roof.”

“Watercare is not for sale as long as I’m mayor,” Goff told Stuff in one of the biggest policy divisions so far between the pair.

Watercare Services Limited is controlled by legislation cementing it in council ownership, banned from paying a dividend, and required to operate at the lowest cost.

The only area that had previously privatised water was Papakura when David Hawkins was the mayor.

Tamihere contended the sale was required to improve water quality, although the council had already passed a targeted water rate to enable important infrastructure to be built.

Commenting on Tamihere’s latest statement on water, Ele Ludemann has commented on Homepaddock:

What is bizarre is thinking that anyone can own water.

When does he think the ownership starts and ends? Does it begin in the clouds from which rain and snow fall and end when fresh water turns to salt water in the Pacific ocean?

Ludemann contends Tamihere is also confused about Three Waters – she prefers to call it Five Waters. She says this is about infrastructure for providing water services, not the ownership of water.

He had said:

We’ve gone from calling it Three Waters to Affordable Water Reforms which is just changing the colour of the lipstick on the pig and distracting us from the real issue: how did Pākeha get control of a Māori-owned asset?

Oh – and Ludemann notes that at the weekend Tamihere was described as a political commentator by a journalist who bypassed the more critical reality that he is president of the Maori Party.

Ludemann comments:

If election results mirror recent polls that party would hold the balance of power and almost certainly use it to either enter a collation with Labour, or exert its position to strongly influence a Labour-led government policy.

That makes Tamihere’s claims much more worrying because Labour has already moved in the direction of giving Maori undue influence over water with its Te Mana o te Wai statements about which Thomas Cranmer writes.

This is a reference to an article republished on Point of Order in which Cranmer alerted the public to something the mainstratem media missed or played down:

. . . Appropriately, given their controversial nature, the Te Mana o te Wai mechanism lies deep in the Water Services Entities Bill —in Subpart 3 of Part 4 of the Bill to be precise. Section 140 of the Bill simply states that

“mana whenua whose rohe or takiwā includes a freshwater body in the service area of a water services entity may provide the entity with a Te Mana o te Wai statement for water services”.

They can be provided by one or more iwi and can be reviewed and replaced by those iwi at any time. Once received, the board of the relevant water services entity has an obligation to engage with mana whenua and prepare a plan that sets out how it intends to give effect to that Te Mana o te Wai statement. And that is where it ends.

The Bill is silent on what can (and cannot) be included in the statements and provides no guidance as to the outcomes that the statements are intended to achieve. In short, there are no limits to the scope of Te Mana o te Wai statements. The relevant water entity board must simply give effect to those statements

“… to the extent that it applies to the entity’s duties, functions, and powers”.

Their importance in the governance structure of Three Waters cannot be overstated…

Moreover, the Bill sets out 6 objectives for the water services entities in section 11 and a further 7 ‘operating principles’ in section 13 – one of which is “to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai”. The principles are not set out in any order of priority and there is no mechanism for determining how to resolve any conflict that will inevitably arise between those principles. Requiring the boards of the water service entities to undertake a massive nationwide infrastructure upgrade whilst also satisfying the requirements of Te Mana o te Wai statements alongside their other statutory obligations seems to be an impossible task. However these reforms are so ideological in nature that issues of practicality cannot be allowed to dilute their potency.

Cranmer was troubled that few people outside Government or the leadership of Maoridom had recognised the significance of the Te Mana o te Wai mechanism.

Ludemann is drawing attention to this issue, too, just as Graham Adams did in a recent article which was republished on Point of Order.

The power given to Maori tribes to make Te Mana o te Wai statements to which water bodies must give effect looks suspiciously like giving iwi rights very akin to those of ownership, she warns.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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