Tuesday, April 30, 2024

NZCPR Newsletter: Mana or Money

When Meridian Energy was seeking resource consents for a West Coast hydro dam proposal in 2010, local Maori “strenuously” objected, claiming their mana was inextricably linked to ‘their’ river and could be damaged. 

After receiving a financial payment from the company however, the Ngai Tahu sub-tribe changed its mind and publicly supported the scheme.

Meridian declined to say how much they paid the iwi, but confirmed it was “to offset the impact of the project on the mauri [life force] of the river.”

Fast forward to November 2023, and Meridian, along with Genesis Energy, is reported to have spent “more than $180 million to smooth the path of re-consenting their Waitaki hydro scheme. This includes payments to three Ngai Tahu hapu, the Department of Conservation and others in exchange for supporting the application.”

DOC has
confirmed it received $2.3 million, so it appears the lion’s share of $180 million has gone into Ngai Tahu’s coffers to satisfy their ‘concerns’.

But hundreds of millions of dollars in cultural gratuities is clearly not enough for Ngai Tahu. They now want control of the Waitaki River itself.

Running over 200 km from the Southern Alps to the ocean near Oamaru, with the fourth largest flow of all New Zealand rivers, it is a vital resource that supplies three hydro-electric dams and five other power stations, along with a myriad of other water users.

When Ngai Tahu’s
proposal to co-govern the River was submitted to the two controlling authorities, the Otago Regional Council voted 8 to 4 in favour of investigating the scheme, while the Canterbury Regional Council supported it by 13 votes to 3 - with the two Ngai Tahu-appointed Councillors voting in favour in spite of the clear conflict of interest.

When Labour passed their controversial legislation in 2022 giving Ngai Tahu two permanent seats on the Canterbury Regional Council, opposition centred on concerns that their presence would bias the Council in favour of iwi initiatives. Agreeing to consider a co-governance proposal from a $2-billion private business development corporation that’s making hundreds of millions of dollars in extortionate payoffs from water users and is a major water user itself - without consulting the wider community - confirms those concerns.

The risks associated with iwi controlling a river were clearly on display in 2020 when the Auckland Council attempted to increase its water take from the Waikato River following a prolonged drought.

In response, the co-governed Waikato River Authority - co-chaired by Tipa Mahuta, the sister of former Labour Minister Nanaia Mahuta -
demanded 10 cents a litre in payment for the water, or $20 million a day! While the controlling iwi saw this as their right, others saw it as extortion and the offer was rejected by then Mayor Phil Goff.

A Board of Inquiry set up to resolve the stand-off
revealed that it wasn’t concerns that increasing the water take would harm the river that caused the iwi-controlled Authority to attempt to block the application, but cultural and metaphysical considerations – namely iwi believed the applicants hadn’t been “respectful” enough.

In the end, consent was 
granted - in return for a $2 million a year payment to the co-governed Authority along with a requirement to develop formal lines of on-going consultation with iwi.

What these cases show is that once iwi manoeuvre themselves into positions of power, their demands are never satisfied.

It’s been a similar story with Lake Taupo. Tuwharetoa gained title to the lakebed under a Treaty settlement, but once they were given the right to charge commercial operators, their demands escalated.

A scientific
survey of the bed of the crater lake had to be called off because exorbitant charges were being demanded. And after fifteen years of the Ironman triathlon being hosted at Taupo, the iwi threatened to block the swimming leg of the race unless they received a levy for each competitor using the lake.

Then there was the confidential deal -
reported to be worth several million dollars a year - whereby the iwi charges Mighty River Power for ‘storing’ their hydro scheme water in the Lake. 

Nowadays all commercial operators using Lake Taupo are required to pay seven percent of their turnover to the iwi. The iwi also expects the organisers of any events planned for the area to pay them a generous cultural ‘koha’.

But it’s not just around lakes and rivers that iwi are muscling in. In the Far North, the flow-on effect of the unlawful actions of local iwi are now threatening the mussel farming industry.

Every year between August and November - the breeding season for green-lipped mussels - seaweed covered in mussel spat is dislodged by rough seas and washed ashore. Once beached, the spat dies, so commercial harvesters scoop up the seaweed from shallow water, load it into refrigerated trucks and transport it to mussel farms all around the country.

The spat is then farmed for up to two more years, before the fully grown mussels are exported to more than 70 countries around the world.

Such is the global demand for green-lipped mussels, that this $350 million industry with 2,500 jobs, has the potential to become a $1 billion enterprise.

Mussel spat has been harvested from 90 Mile Beach since the seventies. The mechanical harvesters that have been used for decades are essentially raised tractors with scoops and wide tyres.

The number of spat harvesters is strictly controlled by the quota management system, and the collection methods follow a long-established code of conduct set by Aquaculture New Zealand that requires the mechanical harvesters to avoid shellfish beds, limit time on the beach, and steer clear of areas of high public and cultural importance.

But in 2019, local iwi
decided to disrupt the industry.

Without proof they claimed mechanical harvesting was damaging toheroa beds and leading to a decline in numbers.

This is at odds with NIWA research from 2007 that showed the impact of mechanical harvesting on the toheroa beds was minimal. This was later
confirmed by Fisheries New Zealand research in 2020.

In 2015 a Waikato University report on the decline of toheroa
identified poaching as the problem: “Illegal harvesting of toheroa is widespread and frequent. The customary take is probably out of control in some places… Based on our recent observations in Northland, illegal harvesting of 'protected' toheroa is widespread, frequent and has in some cases resulted in the reduction and disappearance of adult toheroa beds.”

The iwi, however, pointed their finger at mussel spat collectors. To avoid conflict, the industry agreed to hand harvesting in the area of concern - where most of the spat lands. As a result, collectors with butterfly-style nets are forced to battle heavy surf as they attempt to scoop up the seaweed. It is difficult and dangerous work that is severely limiting their harvest to only a fraction of what’s needed to sustain the domestic mussel industry.

The flow-on effect is that mussel lines are operating at less than capacity and employment numbers are down. The industry is being held to ransom, starved of its major resource because of fabricated claims being made by Far North iwi.

Is this situation a foretaste of what’s in store once iwi control the coast?

There is talk that the disruption is part of a long-term strategy by iwi to gain control of spat supply.

Iwi already control marine mammal watching operations. By choking off the supply of spat, are they angling for control of mussel farming as well?

If they want control of coastal industry, the Marine and Coastal Area Act (MACA) is playing right into their hands.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, freelance journalist Graham Adams, makes the point that most New Zealanders are completely unaware, not only that iwi are being given control of our coastline, but that the implications for the country could be devastating:

“The public has been very poorly informed about MACA’s practical ramifications. Anyone who imagines customary rights and marine title might be confined to gathering shellfish or gathering hangi stones is mistaken.

“The law confers the right for iwi and hapu to be involved in coastal planning and policy development, including vetoing resource consents in an area from the high tide mark to 12 nautical miles out to sea. This could affect applications to set up fish farms, marinas, offshore wind turbines or to build new wharves in their designated areas.

“Financial windfalls will also be available through charging commercial operators a fee. Some fear that could devastate business enterprises such as inshore fisheries as ticket-clipping renders coastal industries uneconomic.”

Back in 2010 when National was working with the Maori Party and iwi leaders on their plan to repeal Crown ownership of the coast to allow Maori claims, the Tainui chairman and former MP Tuku Morgan
revealed that iwi had their eye on seabed mining: “Iwi that successfully claim customary title over the foreshore and seabed will own the minerals under them and the right to mine them. The law change will herald big economic opportunities for iwi. Customary title is just as powerful as freehold title, except it can't be alienated or sold.”

At the time, the Minerals Industry Association warned, “Removing the seabed from Crown ownership will undermine New Zealand’s status as a sovereign nation, and there's a risk iwi will jeopardise development with demands for excessive royalties or even veto it.”

So what can be done?

While the Government has identified that clause 58 of MACA, setting out the tests for customary ownership, needs to be tightened, the problems run much deeper.

The Courts have already warned the dual pathway for addressing claims - either through the High Court or direct negotiation with the Minister of Treaty Settlements – is unworkable.

And with former Minister Andrew Little estimating that resolving almost 600 claims could drag on for 20 or 30 years, the generous taxpayer funding of hundreds of thousands of dollars per claimant - that’s already created a multi-million-dollar gravy train for Maori lawyers - is unsustainable.

The absurdity of claimant funding becomes even more egregious when considering that those acting in the public interest by challenging the claims are not eligible for any form of financial assistance at all. 

As you will be aware, the NZCPR strongly believes the foreshore and seabed is part of our common heritage and should be owned by the Crown on behalf of all New Zealanders.

Accordingly, we campaigned against the introduction of MACA, then opposed the first High Court case, Edwards, in the public interest. But instead of deciding against the claimants, the Judge elevated ‘tikanga’ above the stringent property rights tests that had been
designed to rule out opportunistic applications. In doing so, he opened the floodgates for most claims to succeed.

We appealed the judgement to the Court of Appeal, asking the Judges to interpret MACA as Parliament intended. But they rejected that course of action and instead opted to lower the bar, so virtually the entire New Zealand coastline will end up controlled by competing tribal groups.

As a result, we have now decided to appeal that judgement to the Supreme Court, to challenge not only the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of MACA, but also the judicial activism that is damaging our courts and undermining democracy and the Rule of Law.

If you share our concerns and would like to help, then please support our Supreme Court fundraiser by clicking

Furthermore, since most New Zealanders are unaware of the danger MACA poses, if funds allow, we will initiate an advertising campaign to bring these urgent concerns to the attention of the public - and our politicians.

A cynic, or perhaps a realist, would conclude that the cultural agenda that’s now confronting New Zealand is being driven by money not mana. It’s time for the cancer of cultural appeasement to be removed – it’s been tolerated for far too long and become far too institutionalised in our government departments and the courts.

Christopher Luxon has recently demonstrated decisiveness in changing his Cabinet. It’s time he applied that decisiveness to this issue.

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*Do you believe cultural activism is driven by mana or money?

Dr Muriel Newman established the New Zealand Centre for Political Research as a public policy think tank in 2005 after nine years as a Member of Parliament. The NZCPR website is HERE. We also run this Breaking Views Blog and our NZCPR Facebook Group HERE


Anonymous said...

What is Iwi strategy? To dictate to the 83%?

Recently National 's Maori/Crown Relations Minister Potaka stated that there would be no referendum following the forthcoming Treaty Principles Bill ( which would not be supported further than the second reading_).

Also NZF's proposal to amend the 2011 MACA Bill could be done very fast by the Coalition. Why is this not progressing?
Perhaps National is not supporting the amendment or delaying it? Minister Potaka handles this portfolio as well. Meanwhile, hundreds of Maori claims to coastal areas are in the courts - with success.

Iwi strategy could be two-fold: block any plan for the Coalition to hold a referendum so that all NZers can express their view on democracy or ethnocracy as the country's system of governance

2. to prevent Parliament from exercising its authority over the courts by legislation.

Meanwhile co-governance ( hence He Puapua) continues via lengthy legal challenges - often unknown to the NZ public. RMA disputes over land ownership/management are yet another example.

This is the long road to CG/HP via the courts - and where Parliament does not act swiftly to advance matters ( as it could do).

Iwi - via Minister Potaka - seem to be very influential inside the National tent.

Bottom line: The 17% will dictate to the 83%.

Anonymous said...

So the 1975 TOW Act birthed apartheid and our own Maori mafia. All aided and abetted by our successively elected democratic governments?

Rob Beechey said...

Well written Muriel. As a side issue, a greater collection of destructive radical left wing activism would be hard to find outside the Canterbury Regional Council. The sooner the commissioners kick their sorry arses out of office the better.