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Mike Butler

Tribes plan for $1b plus water ownership

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A $1-billion “capacity building” fund plus tribal ownership of freshwater, of all Crown owned river and lake beds, and the water column, are among proposals the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group is taking around the country for tribal ratification.

Tribal demands for water are detailed in a Powerpoint presentation titled Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group July-August 2015 posted HERE. Ways to achieve these goals this month are under discussion at regional tribal meetings.

The Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, like its alter ego the Iwi Chairs Forum, is a relatively new association largely of treaty settlement recipients who have become well-paid and highly honoured through privileged access to central government.

Founded in 2007 to lobby senior government Ministers on freshwater, the group includes Tuwharetoa, Ngai Tahu, Whanganui, Te Arawa, Waikato-Tainui, Ngati Porou, Raukawa, and Ngati Kahungunu.

Sir Tumu Te Heuheu of Taupo tribe Tuwharetoa and Sir Mark Solomon of South Island tribe Ngai Tahu front this lobby group.

The Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group is one lobby group that arose from the patchwork quilt that is “Maoridom”. New Zealand Maori Council is a further lobby group. This multi-tiered elected structure that has existed since the 1940s involves Maori wardens on the street and high-level schmoozing in Wellington.

But wait, there are more. The Waitangi Tribunal is a further lobby group that pretends to be an impartial tribunal. Then there is the Maori Party that got 1.3 percent of the party vote in 2014 whose two MPs are able to squeeze benefits from the governing National Party through its confidence and supply agreement.

The game plan in the claim for water is that lobby group 1 (Freshwater Iwi Leaders) work in conjunction with lobby group 2 (Maori Council), citing recommendations from lobby group 3 (Waitangi Tribunal), with representatives from lobby group 4 (Maori Party) gently reminding the government of their risk should they not go along with the current demand.

Water became the focus of tribal demands in 2012 when the government began to sell 49 percent of power generators Mighty River Power, Genesis, and Meridian Energy. The Maori Council went to the Waitangi Tribunal for a favourable ruling, and then to court to stop the sale.

This did not stop the part-privatisations but it did get a statement from Prime Minister John Key, who said “the government… believes no one owns water, (but) it does believe… certain Maori may have rights and interests.” The Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group features this quote in their presentation.

The group features a further quote from the Waitangi Tribunal, which says that “Maori had rights and interests in their water bodies for which the closest English equivalent in 1840 was ownership rights, and such rights were confirmed, protected, and guaranteed by the Treaty of Waitangi”.

Both the Iwi Leaders Group and the Maori Council have been working on a deal for water.

The Maori Council strategy is to get a favourable tribunal ruling that can be taken to court to get an injunction that would lead to some benefit.

The Iwi Leader Group strategy relies on privileged access to Government Ministers to get direct involvement in policy making to negotiate a share of the income stream and of the resource.

The favourable tribunal ruling and the prime ministerial nod that some ownership is on the cards created a new tribal objective for tribes to work towards. This objective is recognition that tribes own water, and that tribes will be involved in decision-making, water quality control, and economic development.

Broadly speaking, according to the presentation, how the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group plans to obtain these objectives is as follows. The first step of the strategy towards tribal:

  • Ownership. Enable formal recognition of relationships with particular freshwater bodies. The next step is to address uncertainty of supply of potable water on all maraes and in housing there (papakainga).
  • Freshwater governance, management, and decision-making. Enhance tribal participation at all levels of freshwater decision-making and “build capacity” amongst tribal representatives and councils. “Capacity building” is a new buzz word that means developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the fast-changing world. This includes resourcing.
  • Involvement in freshwater quality. Develop a range of mechanisms to give effect to tribal values in order to maintain and improve freshwater quality.
  • Economic Benefit. Develop a range of mechanisms to enable tribal groups to access freshwater resources in order to realise and express their economic interests.

The Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group has mapped out specific steps for tribal groups to achieve these goals:

  • Ownership would be achieved by the Crown to transferring to tribal groups ownership of all Crown-owned river and lake beds and the water column. Failing that, another avenue would be the Awa Tupua approach involving the Whanganui River. The basic justification used for the transfer of ownership is the Waitangi Tribunal ruling.

Uncertainty of supply of potable water on all maraes may be addressed by guarantees of potable water, quality freshwater, and quality freshwater infrastructure there.

  • Freshwater governance may be obtained by getting tribal representation on councils, enter into joint management agreements, seek co-management arrangements like those involving the Waikato River or the Whanganui River Awa Tupua arrangements, or establish tribal district protection areas covering land and freshwater.

A $1-billion fund deposited into a tribal-approved entity could be the resource to help “build capacity” by training tribal representatives to be effective in co-governance.

  • Water quality may be improved with tribal input to “give effect to iwi/hapū values” (with no explanation of what values would improve water quality and how) while implementing the Environment Ministry’s National Policy Statement on Freshwater.
  • The section on economic development has a woolly statement about developing a range of mechanisms to enable iwi/hapū to access freshwater (as if access to fresh water was an issue).

In this section, the Te Mana o Te Wai fund is mentioned. This is an Environment Ministry fund of $5-million over two years (2014 and 2015) to enable Maori to improve the water quality of freshwater bodies (including lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and lagoons) that are of importance.

The Sapere approach is mentioned. This research group proposed a nationwide settlement, an end to 35-year renewals of water consents, and a move to permanent rights and a market in tradable water rights.

Four case studies on Gisborne, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, and the South Island are a reminder that the tribal tilt at water ownership is not starting from scratch.

A joint management agreement between the Gisborne District Coucil and Ngati Porou, signed last month, puts resource consenting in the Waiapu catchment into the hands of co-governance panels with a goal to extend this over the entire Gisborne district.

The Regional Planning Committee, set up by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in 2012 after instructions by Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson, creates permanent co-management over natural resources in Hawke’s Bay between nine local treaty settlement groups and councillors.

An eye-watering $30-million was earmarked last year to set up the Te Awa Tupua entity, situated midway between the Crown and the tribes, to co-govern the Whanganui River. The Crown alone will fund it with $200,000 a year for 20 years.

River co-governance started with the Waikato in 2010 with the establishment of the Waikato Raupatu River Trust, the Waikato River Authority, and the Waikato River Clean-up Trust. Associated funding involves a $20-million endowment, a $10-million river initiatives fund, a further $40-million river initiatives fund, $3-million co-management funding, plus $1-million for co-management a year for 27 years.

In light of past generosity, $1-billion for capacity building probably would not seem excessive to these tribal water claimants.

This tribal tilt for water ownership coincides with plans by central government to separate water management from local authorities into private companies incorrectly named “council controlled organizations”.

Part of this proposal involves putting water meters on every dwelling through New Zealand so that citizens may pay extra for freshwater, on top of rates.

Some degree of water privatization appears to be on the cards. Extra payment for water appears likely. However, it is clear that the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group has mapped out a strategy to gain ownership, as well as key roles in decision-making, water quality control, and economic development.

In summary, the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group wants:

  • Transfer of title to all Crown owned river and lake beds and title to the water column above to regional tribal groups.
  • Title in fresh water consistent with Waitangi Tribunal rulings.
  • Guaranteed of allocation of fresh water for all marae and marae housing.
  • Free water infrastructure for maraes and marae housing.
  • Tribal participation at all levels of fresh water decision-making that may include tribal representation on councils, joint management agreements, and co-management of waterways.
  • A $1-billion fund of public money to build the capacity of tribes to implement fresh water management and control.
  • Tribal involvement in resource consents or an allocation of tradable water rights.

Regional ratification for the strategy should finish by around now with confirmation of the position of all tribes on water by the middle of next month.

Are you ready to give up water? I don’t think so.