A Ruapehu District Council meeting overheated as councillors opposed one member's anti-co-governance stand on the proposed Three Waters entities, criticising it as "dumb" and "divisive".
The council's online meeting on Wednesday got heated when councillor Adie Doyle said he was "really struggling" with the co-governance model.
In a question and answer session with Allan Prangnell, Department of Internal Affairs director of the Three Waters review, Doyle zeroed in on the Government's proposal for the new entities to be governed by 50-50 representation of councils and mana whenua.
"I look at the Treaty and Article 2 says they've got tino rangatiratanga over the assets that they own, but I can't see how Māori own a reticulated water supply the council owns. I can't find anything in the Waitangi Tribunal and even the principles of the Treaty don't talk about co-governance.
"Case law doesnt talk about co-governance. It's not even in the Labour Party manifesto, but it is in a Cabinet paper.
"I just want to understand how such a small group of people can have such a massive influence over something which I think is going to backfire."
Prangnell said the co-governance proposal does not translate to iwi ownership of the assets. He said Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi references Māori rights and interests in natural resources.
"It's not an ownership claim for the pipes."
Prangnell said he would forward to the council the Treaty analysis used in developing the Three Waters reforms proposals. It is understood the council has not undertaken Treaty of Waitangi training.
Article 3 was about the Crown's obligations to look after Māori as members of the community.
"In the area of water, we know Māori are significantly over-represented in terms of communities really badly served at a basic service level – boil water notices, no reticulated supply, infrastructure quite often passing a marae but not connected up."
The proposed governance structure reflected the Government position that mana whenua have legitimate interests in the health of the waterways from which water is taken and discharged back to, he said.
"It's from this perspective, not an ownership perspective, that the Government is saying we want this to be a partnership in the oversight of the performance of the entities."
Councillor Lyn Neeson asked Prangnell for "a really good explanation of why it's 50% Māori/50% council". She said some of the board would be required to have competency in te reo Māori and provide a Māori perspective but she asked what other competencies and "level of professionalism" would be required.
Prangnell said the legislation would stipulate that appointments to entity boards would be competency based.
Doyle asked if it was fair that under the proposed 50-50 partnership, 50% of "the people who have contributed 100%" would be accountable to the ratepayers or users, and 50% would not be accountable to that group – "they're going to be accountable under a kaupapa Māori model".
Prangnell responded: "The Government is saying on behalf of communities – both Māori and non-Māori – here's a partnership between local government and mana whenua in terms of holding the entities to account. The entities will be under a huge amount of scrutiny. I've explained that logic, whether you support that or not. I understand that people will take different views on that across the country."
Doyle then asked what strings would be attached to the council's $16m "better-off" package from the Government, adding there appeared to be "an obligation to consult with Māori" attached to accepting the sweetener.
Prangnell said he did not view that as "a string". It was a consultation obligation not a right of veto.
"Government wants councils to engage with all of their community."
After the Q&A session, Doyle moved that "a majority of councillors prefer the proportion of mana whenua representation to be based on population". The motion was seconded by Neeson.
Six councillors, including Neeson, then spoke against the motion.
Councillor Elijah Pue said the Waitangi Tribunal interim report on the National Fresh Water and Geothermal Resources Claim (Wai2358) in 2012 found that local government and Government must involve iwi and hapū in the management of fresh water and freshwater ecosystems, and reflect tangata whenua values and interests in the management of and decision making regarding fresh water and freshwater ecosystems.
Pue – the council's youngest member and one of its two Māori councillors – said the Three Waters co-governance proposal was an indication of the arrangements that could be expected in the future.
"Māori aren't just a random grouping of people in Aotearoa. We are tangata whenua, minority or not.
"It is 2021. This is just the start of it and we need to get on board. To even have to argue the point of why co-governance or why Māori voices should be heard, when water is a taonga and is protected under the Treaty of Waitangi ... I feel like we've come too far to have to re-litigate a conversation around what place Māori have in the governance arrangements of this country."
Councillor Robyn Gram asked for the resolution to be removed.
"It's just dumb. We're all sharing this water – there shouldn't be a majority or a minority. We all want good, clean water."
Councillor Viv Hoeta said the motion was divisive and co-governance was not about ownership.
In his right of reply, Doyle said nobody was saying Māori shouldn't be involved at governance level.
"My argument is that it shouldn't be co-governance. These decisions haven't been made in Parliament, they haven't been made in any constitution. You talk about working together for the benefit of all. I totally agree, but I think this is going to cause a significant division in the country rather than bring people together."
When Neeson tried to respond further, Doyle called a point of order. He repeated the call a further five times when CEO Clive Manley and Mayor Don Cameron attempted to seek a clarification, saying it was against standing orders.
"The mover has the last right of reply and after the last right of reply, the vote must be taken."
The motion was defeated with no support from other councillors.
The Mayor said the council has a long way to go before making a decision around Three Waters. It has compiled a list of questions – including some of the questions put to Prangnell in the Q&A session – which it will put to the Minister.