Chris Finlayson writes on how the Waikato River Settlement Act benefits the whole nation.
Federated Farmers' Don Nicolson calls the recent enactment of co-governance over the Waikato River flawed and accuses it of being undemocratic.
Before addressing those issues, it is important to establish the purpose of the Waikato River Settlement Act. It enacts a settlement of the historical claims of Waikato-Tainui under the Treaty of Waitangi in relation to the river.
A key policy for the National Party for many years was to set a goal for concluding just and durable Treaty settlements in a timely fashion.
The reasons were simple - by healing the grievances of the past, all New Zealanders will be able to move forward.
It is not an option to forget the past and the legitimate claims of iwi. But it is not an option to dwell in the past. That is why we have to fix historical injustices, and move on.
One of the Waikato-Tainui's major grievances is the degradation of the river environment which they see as integral to their identity.
The over-riding goal of this Treaty settlement is to restore the health of New Zealand's longest river - because of its cultural and environmental significance, but equally because it is the economic lifeblood of the Waikato region.
The iwi insisted this must be the goal of the settlement. A healthy river is a must for a productive agricultural sector.
This is not an issue of separatism. The interests of the iwi here are the same as the interests of all New Zealanders - and that should not come as a surprise.
Turning to the suggestion the Waikato River Settlement Act is undemocratic - this is a charge that cannot be sustained, in theory or in practice.
The bill was passed by all parties in Parliament (with the exception of Act). This followed a full legislative process involving select committee submissions and debate.
My ministerial colleagues, officials and I met Federated Farmers a number of times to consult on changes to improve the original version of the bill, that had been promoted by the last government.
Even more importantly, democracy means accountability and responsibility. That is what is at the core of the Waikato River scheme. The river settlement is a great step forward in that respect, and a huge improvement on the status quo.
Part of the problem in managing the river, for economically and environmentally successful results, has been the bewildering complexity of how it is governed. It stops any way for people to have a coherent means of deciding what happens on the river.
There are 11 separate local and regional government authorities along the river and its tributaries. While each of these authorities is democratically accountable in its own area, none is responsible for the river as a whole.
Nonetheless, what affects one part affects other parts. The run of the river does not respect the boundaries. The original Waikato River deed was an attempt by the Labour Government to fix the problem of lack of responsibility between too many bodies. It proposed that the 11 local authorities would be replaced by six river boards, with overlapping responsibilities. However, that fix left the river - in conservation terms - still choked with noxious red tape.
The act, as amended by the National Government, provides for a single streamlined body, the Waikato River Authority.
This was an important change to make, in line with the Government's focus on economic and environmental effectiveness.
It will be responsible for setting a vision and strategy for the river that is incorporated into the plans of all the local and regional authorities along the river, ensuring consistency of approach.
It provides for a co-governance arrangement over the river and its tributaries. The principle of co-governance between Crown and iwi has been endorsed by successive governments, Waikato-Tainui and other river iwi, Federated Farmers and local authorities.
It will provide high-level direction, rather than day-to-day management. For example, the authority will not have veto rights over resource consent applications.
The agreement gives effect to one of the biggest - and some would contend most overdue - environmental clean-ups in the history of New Zealand.
There is a fund of $210 million over 30 years for the restoration.
Co-governance, where government or local government share responsibility with iwi for high-level planning around natural resources, is not a new development.
In 1991, the National Government passed legislation giving Ngati Whatua o Orakei ownership of the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial on Bastion Pt, 60ha of parklands, and the beaches around Okahu Bay. It is managed and developed jointly between the Auckland City Council and Ngati Whatua o Orakei.
Around 70 per cent of local and regional authorities already had some form of co-governance arrangement in place with local Maori groups in 2004.
The Waikato River is the source of growth and prosperity for the whole region - it is a source of power and food for the whole country. It is vital to our biggest export industry, agriculture.
This settlement benefits the river; it benefits the people and industry that thrive around the river, and it shows that we can reach just and durable settlements in a way that improve our country for all New Zealanders.
Chris Finlayson is Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.