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Landmark Waitangi Report on Water Claims released

The much-anticipated Waitangi Tribunal and Report into Water has been released with the New Zealand Maori Council calling its recommendations both a win for Maori but also a cautionary tale in now ensuring the Crown responds to both the report and the recommendations. Matthew Tukaki, Executive Director of the New Zealand Maori Council paid tribute to the many claimants and those who have been working behind the scenes for many years: “It was the New Zealand Maori Council in 2012 that began this journey”.

“This is a report for all New Zealanders. From a Maori perspective we consider ourselves to be guardians if the whenua (land) and our waterways. We gather kai from it, we live on it. It is of spiritual importance to us. But it has also been dying. We have hundreds of at risk water ways, and we have land degradation. For non-Maori and all kiwis this is of equal importance because you too live, work and play across the land and in or on the waterways. From a very basic level we need to ensure that all our children can swim in clean rivers, that when we all gather kai it is grown cleanly on the land or in the water. From a Maori perspective we need to protect the land and our waterways for all New Zealanders both today and into the future.” Tukaki said

“This is one of a handful of historic kaupapa claims that seek to identify a determination around the ongoing issue of property rights but also provides a real way forward when it comes to the Crown and Maori relationship under the Treaty of Waitangi. The amount of work involved by a number of Maori organisations and individuals is a great example of kotahitanga in action.” Tukaki said

As the report has indicated the parties agreed that it was important to ensure the following:

• they agreed that Māori rights and interests in freshwater bodies needed to be addressed
• they agreed that Māori values were not being reflected in freshwater decision making, and that the decision-making framework needed to change to better reflect those values
• they broadly agreed that the role of Māori in freshwater management and decision-making needed to be enhanced, although they did not agree on how far it should be enhanced or in what ways
• they agreed that under-resourcing was preventing Māori from participating effectively (or at all) in many RMA processes
• they agreed that national direction to councils was required, and that more water quality reforms were still needed (as at 2017)

• and they agreed that Māori interests in water entailed economic benefits, but they did not agree in what form or to what extent, including on whether the Crown should recognise Māori proprietary rights, or provide an allocation of water to iwi and hapū, or provide an allocation for Māori land development, or carry out some other reform, such as royalties

“Let’s be really clear there has been a clear disconnect between how Government (the Crown) has been developing their legislative frameworks and guidelines and the Te Ao Maori system around Iwi and Hapu plans both present and future. For example, the Resource Management Act made a proviso for the rights of farmers but did not do the same for the proviso rights for Maori. The first in first served system was also unfair to our people especially in catchments that had become full or over allocated. This system had essentially locked Maori out. Not only did this impact our proprietary rights it also impacted our economic development opportunities.” Tukaki said

“In that process Local Council’s and bodies very rarely provided and allocation to Maori in the absence of national leadership or direction from the Crown -which is where we find ourselves today with cowboy operators in terms of Local Government and Councils. Now, the Crown did argue that potentially it was not an issue with the Resource Management Act but more a case of implementation at the Local Council level but the reality is the structure of national decision or direction by the Crown to Local Council is not there – that’s why we see so many cowboy decision within Local Government.” Tukaki said

As the report has indicated the parties agreed that it was important to ensure the following:

• they agreed that Māori rights and interests in freshwater bodies needed to be addressed
• they agreed that Māori values were not being reflected in freshwater decision making, and that the decision-making framework needed to change to better reflect those values
• they broadly agreed that the role of Māori in freshwater management and decision-making needed to be enhanced, although they did not agree on how far it should be enhanced or in what ways
• they agreed that under-resourcing was preventing Māori from participating effectively (or at all) in many RMA processes
• they agreed that national direction to councils was required, and that more water quality reforms were still needed (as at 2017)
• and they agreed that Māori interests in water entailed economic benefits, but they did not agree in what form or to what extent, including on whether the Crown should recognise Māori proprietary rights, or provide an allocation of water to iwi and hapū, or provide an allocation for Māori land development, or carry out some other reform, such as royalties

“The Tribunal has also indicated that their significant flaws in Treaty terms when it comes to the Resource Management Act (which is a significant admission) with the freshwater management regime not Treaty compliant nor is the NPS-FM. In the Tribunal’s own words: “We found that Maori have been prejudiced by these breaches, including the failure to set adequate controls and standards for the active protection of their freshwater Taonga. The breaches and prejudice, the Wai 2358, the New Zealand Maori Council landmark case, claims are well founded. The breaches and prejudice in respect of the RMA and the Crowns freshwater reforms have also affected those Iwi and Hapu who were interested parties and who gave evidence and made submissions.” Tukaki said

“In terms of the recommendations made let’s be clear here – there are some great ways forward. Reform to the RMA is going to be critical in getting much of this right such as the embedding of Te Mana o te Wai which will give further direction to decision makers when it come to the RMA. We also think that embedding the role and obligations under the Treaty sets the scene for greater collaboration but also direction to other stakeholders such as Local Government. Also, establishing a national governance body with equal participation between Maori and the Crown enable us work together when it comes to shared design of amendments and changes but also governance over the Act and various legislative instruments. Importantly the bits of work such as the transfers of power in respect of a water body or bodies will be critical – the move to also address the challenges around Maori being resources to play their role will be key.” Tukaki said

“The New Zealand Maori Council and many other Maori groups were essentially locked out by the previous National Government – they were light on engagement and only then engaged with who they thought they could cut some sort of deal with. I say to National let this be a lesson to you when developing Government policy when it comes to the Te Ao Maori world. To the current Labour Coalition Government I say be bold and join with us in shared ownership of the recommendations. Let us work together to ensure a clean Aotearoa for today and into the future.” Tukaki said.


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