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The Nation: Māori Council Executive Director Matthew Tukaki

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews Māori Council Executive Director Matthew Tukaki

A landmark report from the Waitangi Tribunal this week said Māori should have their ownership rights and economic interests in freshwater recognised by the Crown.

It also said the way water is allocated should be revamped and Māori may be owed royalties.

So what does that all mean for water users?

Simon Shepherd put this to Māori Council Executive Director Matthew Tukaki.

Simon Shepherd: So, the Waitangi Tribunal recommends proprietary rights. Does that mean that Māori would own freshwater?

Potentially, yes, or a portion of the freshwater allocations that are currently in play. But, I mean, the Waitangi Tribunal recommendations spend a lot of time, though, honing in on a whole lot of stuff before we get to that conversation. So, the Resource Management Act is an absolute mess from beginning to end, and also, it was an indication, and probably an indictment, about just how dirty our waterways are across the country, and also the disconnect between central government and local government when it comes to this part over here, bringing in legislation like the RMA, and local government going about implementing it. And don’t forget, of course – it’s not just about water allocation and rights. It’s the overabundance of over-allocation of water rights by some local governments.

So there’s a whole lot of issues. So it’s a complete mess. But we’re talking about the endgame here, where people are saying, ‘OK, if Māori own water, what does that mean for me? Or if they own a portion of the water – if they’re allocated a portion of the water – what does that mean for me?’

Well, it might mean that local governments don’t get the sort of revenue that they’re getting now. It might mean that local governments are forced to both share the resource with Māori, iwi, and hapu, and it could also mean that local governments begin to become a little bit recalcitrant in their view of how this should all unfold. But, I mean, let’s be honest here – how things have been working now over the last couple of decades, across successive governments, both blue and red, has not been working, and that gets to the point about how the resource is being managed, as opposed to how the resource might be owned.

OK. So, there’s two things there. Let’s just go back to how the resource is owned, and if Māori are allocated a percentage of water resource, depending on the catchment, depending on the iwi, all sorts of things. What does that mean for me with my water bill in my house?

Well, see, I think this is a bit of a non-event. I think that if we get the model right, and we’re still a long way from understanding how that might be. So we’re getting wrapped up in the endgame before trying to understand how we arrive at a point that has all parties engaged and all parties agreeing to something. Now, I’ll give you an example of how this might work. So, even if you have a look at a royalty sort of structure around this – so, a percentage of the allocation of water – well, that might simply mean we’re able to economically develop, which is another part of the Waitangi Tribunal report that came in pretty damning. So what could we use to economically develop a piece of freshwater or land around that freshwater in a much more meaningful way that could create economic activity and jobs? There’s that part. The second part is the royalty angle. Well oK, if we do own something, does that mean that Māori might then be able to allocate it either to themselves or allocate it to a third party? What could that impact be? Is a down-flow going to be an increase in water rates? Is it going to be an increase in rates? I mean, I think we’re jumping the gun with this sort of stuff. I don’t believe that local governments necessarily will lose a huge amount of revenue on this, because, let’s face it-

Ok, but what about businesses then? Businesses that use a lot of water, like, you know, we get all of our electricity- well, not all of it, but a lot of our electricity from hydro power. For businesses that use a lot of water, what kind of potential impact could there be from this for them?

Well, again, it’s not so much about them. It will be about the end consumer. I mean, will this hit the pocket of everyday New Zealanders? And there are examples right across the world where that isn’t necessarily the case. So, is it a case of business and industry needing to absorb the cost? Well, what would that look like? In Australia, for example, when the Carbon Emissions Scheme came in, we had something called Pastoral legislation, which mean that the business would have to absorb it or be more efficient in the way that they deliver the product to the end consumer, and the end consumer wouldn’t have to wear the burden of an increase in cost.

So you could set a law like that here, where the business might have to suffer the costs, but I don’t get it in my water bill?

Well, no. I don’t think that necessarily business needs to suffer a cost here. I think this is more about also having a conversation about how we can produce something that is more efficient, therefore delivered to the end consumer in a much more meaningful way, but at the same time, in the middle ground here is a need to clean up our waterways. So, have a look at this, for example. We know that the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in cleaning up waterways right across the country, both the foreshore sort of thing and the freshwater side as well, including freshwater ecology, where we have significant species degradation and loss. So they’re spending that money already. Maybe, it could also just be a case of having a look at what is our role as Māori in helping them achieve that endgame? Will that make things better for all New Zealanders in terms of quality of life? Absolutely it would.

OK. What about if we go to the fear that this is a money-grab by Māori over a resource that everybody owns?

Oh, yeah. That old chestnut.

Well, let’s address that. What do you say to that?

So when has there been a money-grab for Māori, with the exception of legitimate Treaty settlements related to land? So, I would love for somebody to tell me exactly where all these billions of dollars have somehow magically been squirrelled away out of claims like this. Let’s not forget that we have had more than 100-plus Waitangi Tribunal reports and recommendations over the years that many governments have not even responded to. We call those the Kaupapa claims. Now, there has not been, unless I’m completely wrong, one of those claims that have meant that a significant amount of money has passed to the hands of an individual iwi or hapu, or Māoridom more generally. So, I think we get wrapped up in the money-grab sort of nonsense, but I’d also argue too – let’s be fair – Māori are large contributors to the national economy, both through rates and taxes, both personal and individual taxes and incorporated businesses.

Agreed. OK, let’s just finally- the government says it’s concentrating, as you say, on cleaning up the freshwater, and the debate over ownership, or potential ownership, is really unhelpful. National calls it divisive. What’s your message to them?

No, we have to. We have to have a conversation about proprietary ownership, because, essentially, it spans a number of different claims. It’s a spectrum claim, it’s a freshwater claim, it’s a Wai 262 claim that’s been around for many, many years. My recommendation to government is let’s just be bold and be brave here. Let’s make sure that we’re doing something meaningful, not just for Māori, but for all New Zealanders. We can clean up our waterways, and if we don’t do it, well, who’s going to do it? Our kids are going to hate us if we don’t take action on this. But my message to government is let’s have a look at compacting some of the recommendations across all of these different claims in regard to proprietary ownership. Let’s have a look at seeing where there is a connection between 262, water claim spectrum, and others, and say-

So all of these resources? Just wrap it all together?

All of these resources. Absolutely. Let’s just define this once and for all, and let’s just get the job done.

It’s not going to happen soon, but Matthew Tukaki, thank you very much for your time this morning.

Good to be with you.

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