The last 12 months has been spent locking in our position around RMA and water reform. The pressure has really piled on as the government sought to introduce legislation on these very significant kaupapa.
Both have the potential to seriously impact the integrity of our treaty settlement and that is simply a step too far for us. Therefore, we sat down with ministers and officials to navigate away forward in a way that recognised our relationship with our tupuna awa and environment.
Our advocacy has been a key factor in preserving our position in two of the 10 key districts where we clear water interests.
As Chair of Entity A, which stretches from the Bombay Hills to the Far North, I recently led a delegation of iwi leaders from across the entire region. We engaged directly with our flax root’s whanau on marae where the feedback was emphatic.
* They do not want to see any further degradation of water quality which is inherent with the status quo.
* They want their water interests protected.
* They want a unified approach to water management aligned with resource allocation.
They were also of the firm view that these high-level aspirations were universal and principles that every New Zealander would readily subscribe too.
Te Mana o Te Wai was introduced into legislation in 2020 but its gestation period began long before that. It was a direct response to the Waitangi Tribunal’s ongoing inquiry into the national Freshwater and Geothermal Resources claim which began in 2012. That inquiry was adjourned in 2015-2016 with Stage two hearings beginning between 2016-2018.
The findings were subsequently released under urgency in 2020. One of the key findings determined Iwi/Māori retained proprietary interests in water. It was a watershed recommendation.
Te Mana o te Wai essentially recognises the vital importance of clean, healthy water for maintaining the health of our waterbodies, freshwater ecosystems and the communities that rely upon them for their sustenance and wellbeing.
In the absence of the National Policy Water Statement which enshrines Te Mana o Te Wai, then we are duty bound as Iwi to explore the full extent of ownership as outlined by the Waitangi Tribunal.
From a Waikato-Tainui perspective we have distinct rights that are outlined in our Waikato River Settlement Act 2010 that predate the 2012 Water inquiry.
This is a critical point because we strongly believe that any future legislation cannot and should not over-turn our settlement legislation by either stealth or intent. It is a powerful tool and one which we think sets a minimum but very high benchmark to ensure consistency in legislation.
There is a very small but vocal group of people who have embarked on an insidious tour around the country to vilify Māori involvement in water reform. The rhetoric is spiteful and to their shame it is supported with a wink and a nod from the far-right. The very same politicians who pioneered the current reform process.
Iwi and Māori will be involved in water reform make no mistake about that. It will not be determined by fringe elements in our communities who are more interested in political grandstanding.
Litigation is expensive and pose an unnecessary burden to taxpayers because it remains a place where Waikato-Tainui have an unblemished record.
We have never lost a challenge when we have tested the Crown on these matters. Our view is that a messy legislative regime could potentially unravel the Treaty settlements landscape ending the notion of full and final settlements.
Non-Māori have absolutely nothing to fear the notion of shared responsibility of our national resources is hardwired into the fabric of our nation. The current rules allow our primary sector to draw more water from the Waikato River and its catchments than Watercare which service the entire Auckland area by more than 100m cubic meters per day.
From a Māori perspective we must demonstrate that we are responsible stewards of our water resources. We cannot allow another generation to pick up this problem and kick the can further down the road because it is simply unsustainable. Bold decisions must be made now, and it is critical Iwi and Māori are at the forefront reflecting the aspirations of all New Zealanders.
Tukoroirangi Morgan is a former politician and broadcaster. He is the chair of Tainui Iwi and helped spearhead the Waikato River settlement claim with both the Labour and National governments alongside the late Lady Raiha Mahuta