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Dr. Don Brash

A Dangerous Path

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A few weeks ago, I saw a document which scared the hell out of me.  It was a PowerPoint presentation entitled simply “Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group”, and on the very first slide it was stated “The information contained in this presentation is confidential and is intended only for the Iwi to which it has been sent.”  I didn’t have to read far to understand why confidentiality had been emphasised because the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group knew full well that if the general public became aware of what they were planning there would be a public outcry.

I should perhaps acknowledge that because my family trust has owned a kiwifruit orchard near Pukekohe for many years, that orchard has a water right, limited both by quantity and by duration.  I had to apply for the water right, and the Auckland Regional Council (as it then was) had to make a judgement about how much water the orchard could take from the aquifer beneath most of the Pukekohe area.  In making their decision, they looked at all the competing demands for water in the area, and at the sustainable capacity of the aquifer.  They did not ask me at any time whether I was Maori, and to the best of my knowledge they did not consult the local iwi before granting the orchard a water right.  And that’s how it should be – water allocated on the basis of a careful scientific assessment of what can prudently be used without endangering the ongoing health of the aquifer.

If the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group gets its way, that will all change.

Yes, in September 2012 John Key said that “the Government has a very clear position: it believes no one owns water”.  But he added, rather ominously, “it does believe that on a case by case basis certain Maori may have rights and interests [in water]”.

What we now know is that “senior government ministers”, including the Prime Minister, have over the last few months been willing to agree in principle to extending a kind of co-governance arrangement over many of the country’s lakes and rivers – while we’ve all been busy debating the flag and wondering who would be selected to play for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup.

One of the objectives of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group (a group representing most of the major iwi in the country) is to ensure that all Crown-owned lake beds and river beds, together with the related “water column, the space through which the water flows” are vested in the relevant hapu or iwi, as has already been agreed by the government for Ngati Tuwharetoa with respect to Lake Taupo.  And in the interests of enhancing iwi participation “at all levels of freshwater decision-making”, they want iwi representation on councils, joint management agreements, and Waikato River co-management or similar arrangements.  The PowerPoint presentation notes that Ngati Porou are “currently negotiating a Joint Management Agreement” for their rohe aimed at “eventually achieving a s.33 [of the Resource Management Act] transfer of full Council powers by 2020”.

This is nothing less than trying to set up a kind of parallel government which would prevent local councils implementing the policies on which they were elected unless they also had the approval of unelected iwi representatives.  And it’s being done in the name of the Treaty of Waitangi, despite Article 3 of the Treaty making it crystal clear that the Treaty of Waitangi extended “the rights and privileges of British subjects” to Maori, nothing more and nothing less.

But wait: what about Article 2?  There has been a lot of nonsense talked about Article 2, but it is now very clear, since the discovery of the English text from which the Maori text of Te Tiriti was translated, that Article 2 simply guaranteed “to the chiefs and tribes and to all the people of New Zealand the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property”.  It is extraordinarily doubtful that Governor Hobson intended this to mean that Maori tribes would be entitled to have a veto over the decisions of democratically elected councils with respect to water more than 175 years later.

Sadly, this demand for co-governance over lakes and rivers is simply one aspect of a more general demand on the part of the Maori elite to participate in government as of right simply by virtue of having one or more Maori ancestors.  In Auckland, we’ve seen it in the form of the Independent Maori Statutory Board.  This unelected board appoints two of its members to sit on (and vote on) virtually every Auckland Council committee.  The website of the IMSB states that its purpose “is to assist the Auckland Council to make decisions, perform its functions and exercise its powers.”  To do this, the IMSB “puts forward the cultural, economic, environmental, and social issues that are significant for mana whenua groups… and makes sure that the council complies with statutory provisions that refer to the Treaty of Waitangi”.  But why is a special Maori Board required for that?  Why can’t Maori New Zealanders stand for election as councillors, just like anybody else?  Indeed, when the first election for the council took place after the Super-City was created, three of the 20 elected councillors were Maori, showing that Maori are perfectly capable of winning election on their own merit – they don’t need special legislative protection, any more than Europeans, Pacific Islanders or Asians do.

My fellow New Zealanders, we are on a very dangerous path.