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Working with iwi and hapū a core capability for councils’ freshwater management, says Auditor-general

Regional councils must focus on building meaningful and enduring relationships with iwi and hapū to support better freshwater management, says the Auditor-General in a new report.

“Freshwater is one of New Zealand’s most important natural resources and the quality of our freshwater environment affects the lives of all New Zealanders,” says Auditor-General John Ryan. “Improving how we manage freshwater quality is important work. It is particularly important for regional councils, who are responsible for managing freshwater quality in their regions.”

Regional councils have statutory obligations to involve iwi and hapū in managing freshwater resources through the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, the Resource Management Act 1991, Treaty settlements and other legislation. Many iwi also exercise kaitiakitanga over freshwater in their rohe.

“Regional councils need meaningful relationships with iwi and hapū because of the deep cultural and traditional connections that tangata whenua have with water bodies and water,” says Mr Ryan. “These relationships can help regional councils better understand the values and aspirations iwi and hapū have for freshwater management.

“Building meaningful relationships that endure will require councils to take a more strategic approach. This involves a focus on shared long-term goals for freshwater management; a common understanding of each other’s interests in, and concerns for, freshwater; appropriate structures for councils to hear and respond to iwi and hapū voices; and effective processes for sharing information.

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“Working with iwi and hapū in this way should be a core capability for councils, as it is critical to effective freshwater management, good environmental planning, and a range of other responsibilities regional councils have.”

The report looks at progress on a recommendation the Auditor-General made in 2019 and considers how well four regional councils (Waikato, Taranaki, Horizons, and Environment Southland) work with iwi and hapū in their regions to manage freshwater quality.

The report found that all four councils have improved their approach to working with iwi and hapū. However, the Auditor-General’s staff also heard from iwi and hapū representatives that they want more enduring and meaningful relationships with regional councils.

“Enduring and meaningful relationships between councils, iwi, and hapū underpin good freshwater management,” says the Auditor-General. “These relationships can also provide mutual benefits and opportunities in other parts of councils’ work.

“We heard how strong relationships can benefit work on decision-making for resource consent applications and consulting on regional plan updates. Mutually beneficial relationships can also help to address long-term issues in managing freshwater, such as workforce capacity issues.

“Councils need strong relationships to work effectively and to maintain the trust and confidence of all the communities they serve. I encourage all councils to consider how they can learn from the observations in this report and the approaches that different councils have taken to working more effectively with iwi and hapū to manage freshwater quality.”

The Auditor-General will continue to have an interest in how regional councils are working to build meaningful and enduring relationships with iwi and hapū in their regions.

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