Those following the NZ Herald coverage of the Hauraki Gulf Forum in the past few months will have noticed an evolving muscular tone from some writers over a perceived lack of recognition of this relatively unknown statutory entity.
The latest contribution comes from Brian Rudman in last Monday's edition. Helpfully, Mr Rudman alluded to the proposed Hauraki Gulf marine spatial plan. This is an important project which has seen preparatory work undertaken by the Waikato Regional and Auckland councils, government ministries and mana whenua.
Unfortunately Mr Rudman became distracted by his speculation over my role with this project, and personal misgivings with the level of mana whenua participation. The care of Tikapa Moana/Hauraki Gulf is paramount to mana whenua as the centuries-old kaitiaki of this taonga, as it is to many others.
One of the failings of local government arrangements for the Gulf is that it is split between the Waikato and Auckland regions. This has resulted in piecemeal and inconsistent regional planning, which has failed to prevent the steady decline in water and habitat quality. The importance of the marine spatial plan project is that it will lead to the first joint integrated planning instrument for the Gulf.
While mana whenua have long advocated for such a plan, it was previously resisted by the former Auckland Regional Council and Waikato Regional Council.
That is the story, and not Mr Rudman's personal issues with me. But, as he made me the story, a few facts. Mr Rudman implied a conflict of interest because, he says, I hold pastoral and marine farming directorships. Wrong, on the first count. A quick Google search would have confirmed I have not been an Agresearch director for over 12 years.
And, a search of recent NZ Herald editions (August 25, 2012) would have uncovered a reference to a conference speech of mine critical of local government performance in failing to reverse degraded water quality from rivers flowing into the Hauraki Gulf. The primary cause being uncontrolled non-point source pastoral farming discharges.
On the second count, I am a director of a marine farming charitable company wholly owned by rural marae, whose distributions are made for marae maintenance and education grants. Not much of a smoking gun, so back to the real story.
The issue delaying commencement of substantive work on the joint marine spatial plan is agreement on the governance architecture. Through his selective references to internal Hauraki Gulf Forum email traffic, Mr Rudman attempted to paint the participation by mana whenua as a power grab.
Unfortunately, he omitted reference to the fact that Waikato Regional Council, government ministries and mana whenua all support a bespoke leadership entity having equal representation between government (central and local) and mana whenua. And, that the Hauraki Gulf Forum would also be represented on that entity.
But for Auckland Council agreement with this approach, the project would have been underway many months ago. So, what's the problem?
Several Auckland Councillors object to this level of mana whenua participation and have attempted to turn this into a debate over whether the Hauraki Gulf Forum should be in control rather than a partnership model.
The reality is that those in control are the Waikato Regional and Auckland councils as they have the statutory decision-making powers - not the Forum and not mana whenua.
Interestingly, those same Auckland councillors are not seeking to have the Hauraki Gulf Forum have a veto over Auckland Council decision-making on the Gulf.
The point of the partnership model supported by all key parties, other than several Auckland councillors, is that it will provide collaborative leadership for the process leading to final council decisions on the joint marine spatial plan.
The nettle is there to be grasped by Auckland Council to enable commencement of substantive work on a long awaited Hauraki Gulf marine spatial plan. The Fourth Estate can play its part too with focused and intelligent analysis.
Paul Majurey has been a Hauraki Gulf Forum member since its establishment in 2000.
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