No doubt the Government was delighted the publicity following last month's Auckland volcanic cones treaty settlement was dominated by talk of the replacement tree for Maungakiekie - One Tree Hill.

With eyes focused on such trivia, it meant Treaty Settlement Minister Chris Finlayson and his colleagues could avoid being quizzed about the much more important issue - who was expected to pay for the new co-governance arrangement he has imposed on Auckland ratepayers.

And you've guessed it. This Government, which is for ever berating local government for over-taxing its ratepayers, has forced the extra costs on to Auckland Council.

All heart, the Government has provided a one-off $400,000 grant to cover "establishment and operational costs" of the new Maunga Authority, which will have six representatives from local tribes, six from Auckland Council and one Crown representative. The money will no doubt be needed for fancy offices, administration staff and directors' fees for authority members.


Hopefully the $400,000 will cover first-year costs. After that, it will be muggins the ratepayer who will remain responsible, as before, for the day-to-day management and maintenance work on the cones, plus the new overheads.

At a "meet-the-candidates" meeting in Epsom, former National Party minister and MP for the area Christine Fletcher challenged local National list MP Paul Goldsmith to explain why the Government was not funding what was, after all, a treaty settlement between Crown and iwi.

Mrs Fletcher, now Auckland Council parks chairwoman, told the Herald later, "It's going to be extremely hard to fill the aspirations of iwi and the community when there are no funds available." She said the Crown should at least share costs.

Mrs Fletcher estimated there was at least $1.2 million of urgent remedial work needed on Mt Eden and other cones. Others suggest $5 million would be nearer the mark.

Following the meeting, Mr Goldsmith and National MP for Maungakiekie Sam Lotu-Iiga both referred further queries to Mr Finlayson. The minister responded with the pie-in-the-sky, free-market dream that "there should ultimately be cost savings in the governance of the maunga due to the improved efficiency of a single co-governance arrangement".

The fact is that until now, the cones have had no costly governance structure - they've been administered by Auckland Council as part of the parks system, or in the case of North Head and some gulf islands, by the Department of Conservation. While now "governed" by the Maunga Authority, the day-to-day care will be shared in much the same way.

Mr Finlayson also talks of "settlement revenue derived from the maunga, such as existing leases, licenses and concessions, [which] will contribute dedicated funding to the cost of maintaining the maunga."

Just what cornucopia of concessions he talks about is a mystery. The income from the mountains at present is small. There's a commercial events establishment on One Tree Hill, but most of the leases and licenses are for non-profit organisations like sport clubs. The grazing concession apparently costs the contractor money.


Unfortunately, the tour buses that decant tens of thousands of visitors on to the most popular peaks pay nothing. This despite suspicions within the industry that some tour operators build a fee for visiting the maunga into their clients' travel bills.

Auckland Council is reportedly examining possible ways of charging foreign tourists. But that doesn't fit the category of existing concessions. Such a charge also goes against our long tradition of providing free access to local and national parks, and is likely to be controversial.

Mr Lotu-Iiga was quoted recently demanding a new tree as soon as possible. "I think it should be a priority." The true priority is surely gaining adequate funding to ensure this recent treaty settlement proves more than just an empty gesture.

Meanwhile the Government has added to Auckland's bill by pursuing Unesco World Heritage listing for the isthmus volcanic field. Ministry of Culture and Heritage staff have been beavering away, with the aid of council officials, to build a case. At last count, Auckland Council agreed to pay $50,000 towards this scoping study, the Government just $25,000.

If the Government is serious about World Heritage Status, and about creating a unique volcanic cone tourist attraction, it needs to come up with the sort of money it's throwing at, for example, new bicycle-ways in obscure National-voting electorates. The latest $100 million promise would create a world-beating World Heritage volcanic park.