Maori push for unelected voting rights on gulf plan looks suspicious given apparent conflict of interest.

In the countdown to the World Triathalon there were some hurried pleas to the weather gods not to ruin Auckland's clean, green image by blowing up a storm and flushing waste from city streets and Meola Creek sewers into the downtown swimming basin.

A timely reminder how tenuous is our claim to the international brand of "Pure". A reminder, too, of the urgent need for a plan to reverse the steady decline in the health of Auckland's greatest taonga, the Hauraki Gulf.

Unfortunately, as former Auckland Mayor Christine Fletcher protested this month, the struggle to revive the gulf seems to have been "hijacked by other agendas around Treaty settlements".

In short, the 26 Maori mana whenua groups with links to the gulf are demanding equal voting powers to local and central government on a proposed new "steering group" to be set up to create a spatial plan for the gulf. Front man for the Maori push is senior counsel Paul Majurey, a veteran in Treaty of Waitangi law, and chairman of both the Hauraki and Tamaki Makaurau iwi collectives.

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Auckland Councillors this month baulked at this demand, resolving, after a series of votes, to reconsider it in a month's time. In an email to fellow members of the existing Hauraki Gulf Forum last Friday, Mr Majurey refuelled the battle, attacking "some childish and spiteful politics" at the council meeting by "those seeking an entity that has a super majority by non-mana whenua".

In reality, the models put to the councillors proposed a 50/50 power split between Maori on one side, and democratically elected representatives of Auckland and Waikato councils, plus unspecified government departmental representatives on the other.

In the now widely circulated email, Mr Majurey states: "So we are clear, mana whenua seek equal representation on a bespoke leadership entity ... and not as a subcommittee of the Forum."

I hate it when someone like Mr Majurey tries to engineer me into the redneck corner, but demand all he likes, why in a democracy is he expecting equal representation for unelected appointees from his various iwi clients? We're not talking Treaty claims here, we're talking the rehabilitation of a precious marine national park, under great pressure because of misuse by all of us who live in its catchment. Yes, that includes even Mr Majurey, who is not just a director of marine farming enterprises but also a former director of AgResearch, the giant Crown-owned research institute dedicated to expanding pastoral agriculture - both economic pastimes that the Hauraki Gulf Forum's 2011 State of the Gulf Report pointed the finger at as contributors to the gulf's steady decline.

With their Treaty settlement payouts, mana whenua's activities as farmers and fishers will only add greater pressure to the gulf's finite resources. To expect Aucklanders to exacerbate this possible conflict of interest by giving Mr Majurey's clients what is all but a veto in this new body is playing us for fools. It would be a bit like inviting Sanford's or Fonterra or Fletcher Properties to draw up a blueprint for the gulf when we know excess fishing, dairy effluent and development run-off are all part of the problem.

This is a power grab. Mr Majurey and those he represents might believe that as landed gentry they know what's best for the gulf, but in a democracy we have ways of testing these claims short of seizing power. The original proposal to council proposed a huge 52-person governance body made up of 26 mana whenua and an equal number of representatives from councils, government agencies and the existing Hauraki Gulf Forum. By the time of voting, the numbers had dropped to eight apiece.

Mrs Fletcher and former regional council chairman Mike Lee proposed a sensible alternative - that the job be done by the existing gulf forum. That seems the obvious answer. The forum was set up under the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000 "to integrate the management and, where appropriate, to promote the conservation and management in a sustainable manner, of the natural, historic and physical resources of the Hauraki Gulf".

It has 12 representatives from local councils, six tangata whenua appointees and representatives from the Ministries of Conservation, Fisheries and Maori Affairs. Instead of reinventing this wheel, why not just get this one turning.