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David Round

No-one owns the water

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The Maori water claim is not just an argument over an increasingly valuable resource. It is also another nail in the coffin of racial harmony and national survival. There can be little doubt that we are facing very hard times. We have seen nothing yet. But already we are squabbling over our last few remaining possessions. One racial minority group suddenly claims ownership of a vital national resource ~ for water, remember, is ‘the new oil’, a vital underpinning of our agricultural economy.  At the same time an increasingly desperate government is offering electricity generation, another strategic public asset, for sale at bargain prices. The sales are lunacy, and the Maori Council has to be thanked, at least, for delaying them so far. But that delay h as come at the cost of another blow to our hopes of a racially harmonious and prosperous society.

It is deeply ironic that John Key is now enjoying a certain popularity for ‘standing up to the Maoris’. It is his and his party’s ineptitude that has manoeuvred us into this fiasco. A large and increasing number of Maori are now (completely mistakenly) convinced that they own all the water in New Zealand. That is what the Maori King has just told them. That is not the law; but this increasingly stroppy racial minority is nevertheless convinced that public ownership and regulation of water for the greater good is in fact a theft of their property. This is disastrous for future water management, and another grudge for Maori to hold against us, another wound to our increasingly tense and divided society. It will, once again, divert us from the real business of survival.

We squabble over political metaphysics. To ask what the ‘principles’ of the Treaty are, and what they require, makes as much sense as arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. These questions are capable of any answer anyone wants to give them. We should be making rational decisions for the common good in the twenty-first century, not surrendering to self-interested fanciful extrapolations of a short 172 year old general expression of amiable arrangements.

The law is clear. Since 1840 the English common law of water applied here, and by that there was no private (including Maori) ownership of water. Then the 1967 Water and Soil Conservation Act vested the sole right to use natural water in the Crown. Everyone, Maori included, who wanted to use water other than in ways allowed by the Act or a proper Plan, had to obtain a ‘water right’. The same arrangement is continued by the 1991 Resource Management Act.

The ‘water permits’, as they are now called, which power companies hold were issued under these statutes. This means, then, that the Waitangi Tribunal has never had the jurisdiction to hear this water claim. Its doing so was legally improper. This is because in 2006 the Tribunal’s jurisdiction was limited; it now has no jurisdiction to hear any ‘historical’ Treaty claim, complaining of events before 2008. But the power companies’ water  permits were granted before 2008, under statutes also made before 2008.

The Tribunal is careless of the law, then. Numerous claims also reveal its bias and partiality to claimants. It cannot be taken seriously as a source of reliable history or policy. Nowadays anyway, it is little more than a grandly-named Maori lobby group. Of course it ‘discovered’ that Maori had something ‘akin to a proprietary right’. Would you ever expect the Tribunal to say anything else? Its purpose, like that of the Maori Council, is simply to demand more for one racial group. The time is well past when it had anything useful to add to a discussion.

The latest round of ‘full and final settlements’ supposedly settled historic claims for ever. We were promised that thereafter we would all move forward in harmony as one nation. Yet the ink is hardly dry on the page before more claims appear. It is well past time to expect Maori to keep their word, and for us simply to say ‘no’ to further Maori greed.

Many aspects of our water management do us little credit. Environmentalists delude themselves, however, if they expect improvements after Maori take over. Maori have no special gene for environmental care. They aim to become a new idle capitalist class, skimming rents and profits from other people’s business. Environmental responsibility is the duty of us all. It is surprising that environmentalists, who, like the left, usually vehemently argue against any private ownership of nature, are silent on this occasion. Perhaps weird racial guilt leads them to think that bad things are all right if brown people do them. But cleansing refreshing water, the source of life itself, is of its very nature the birthright of us all.