Key Points:

Professor Veronica Strang has given us a very good analysis of the issues surrounding privatisation of natural resources such as fresh water.

>>Vanessa Strang: Privatisation of assets never cut and dry

The issues were skirted around in the resource management law reform of the late 1980s. Iwi groups wondered how resources could be managed without ownership first being established, but the question was never answered directly.

As pressure grows on finite resources, argument and competition become more intense, so clarity is especially important.

Professor Strang has helped this debate by pointing out that the language of the debate and the framing of the issues reflect an ideological or (the Maori Party would say) a cultural viewpoint.

So ownership and management of resources are not the same as rangatiratanga, and customary rights are not the same as private title.

To bring forward a Maori perspective when these issues are debated in Parliament is precisely why the Maori Party was formed.

We do not want to see a repeat of the foreshore and seabed debacle, in which people were told that Maori customary rights threatened reasonable public access to beaches, despite the denials of tangata whenua and the evidence of history.

The Government argued that Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed would protect public rights, when in fact it has already cleared the way for seabed mining and the private development of marinas for the exclusive use of wealthy yachties.

Holding a title to property, whether Crown or private, establishes a regime of rights - to capture, to exclude, to develop, to keep.

Rangatiratanga is asserted through the collective exercise of responsibilities - to protect, to conserve, to augment and to enhance over time for the security of future generations.

Both seek to increase value, but the question is, how do you value the resource? The profit you can make? Or the taonga's contribution to the survival of the group?

As Professor Strang says: "Economic activity does not operate in a separate sphere - economic choices are simultaneously social, political and ideological choices."

The Maori Party's policy is to adopt a Genuine Progress Index to measure our national performance. A GPI is an integrated planning tool which measures the economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes of our decisions.

A GPI places explicit value on the ability of our natural resources to sustain life - the purity of our waters, the productive capacity of soils, the stability and diversity of our ecosystems.

It also values social and cultural assets that enrich our lives - stable and resilient families, connected communities that look after each other, public participation in education, recreation and cultural activities, absence of poverty and conflict.

Currently our national planning is based on weighing up economic costs and benefits, all boiled down to the GDP, which guides all our decisions.

This narrow focus on economics is driving the degradation of natural water sources by pollution, abstraction for irrigation or power generation, and the flooding and droughts made worse by deforestation and climate change.

It is driving the fragmentation and breakdown of family structures and social support networks, the lack of time or energy for people to care for each other, the loss of shared values and norms of behaviour.

The Maori Party is committed to turning around our sense of responsibility for each other, and for our natural world. Like a family, we blossom when we are nurtured, respected and protected in a loving, caring environment.

Our kaupapa of whanau ora reminds us that whanau can take control of their situation by taking responsibility. This is the distinctive view we bring to the debate over privatisation of natural resources.

For us, it is not a question of ownership rights, but how we honour our collective responsibilities to respect and protect the environment and communities that give us our identity, our rangatiratanga, our mana.

* Dr Pita Sharples is co-leader of the Maori Party.