Environment Minister David Parker at Waitangi with (left to right) co-chair of the Maori Caucus, Willow-Jean Prime and Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

Environment Minister David Parker has rejected a call from the Maori Council and a number of big iwi to introduce co-governance into the new resource management system.

He is expected to introduce the legislation to set up the system, the Natural and Built Environments Bill, into Parliament next week.

On September 6, in a little-reported speech, he confirmed that he would not agree to co-governance.

His decision is in stark contrast to the approach taken by the Government over the Three Waters legislation.

 POLITIK understands he faced resistance from Minister Nanaia Mahuta and members of the Maori caucus, but he prevailed within the Cabinet and overall caucus in what may be seen as a defining move by the Government, which has been under fire over the Three Waters co-governance proposals.

Under those proposals, fifty per cent of the four Regional Water Organisation boards’ membership would be Maori.

Parker’s decision applies to 15 Regional Planning Committees, which will be set up more or less on regional council boundaries and will draw up the main planning document.

“The committees will include regional representatives from all local authorities and representatives of Māori groups,” he said in the September 6 speech.

“The Government is not proposing 50-50 co-governance.”

In another little-reported speech to the Local Government conference in July, Parker confirmed the composition of the committees.

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“We have decided that the minimum number of  (local authority) representatives will be six, and the minimum number of people representing Māori groups will be two,” he said.

“Regions will then be able to determine whether they want more than six representatives on the regional planning committee and whether they want more than two people representing Māori groups.”

In essence, that will mean that the local authorities representatives could outnumber the Manu Whenua representatives on the Committees.

For example, the Wellington Regional Council, which stretches up into the Wairarapa, covers eight separate local councils.

That would mean eight council representatives but possibly only two Maori.

Maori plainly became concerned earlier this year that this was going on behind the scenes and the Maori Council sought a “priority” urgent hearing at the Waitangi Tribunal.

They were supported by a large number of other Maori organisations, including the iwi Leaders’ Forum Freshwater Group, Ngapuhi, a number of North Island iwi and Ngai Tahu, who were represented by former Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson.

But the Council’s application focussed not on how many Maori were to be appointed to the Committees but rather on how they were to be appointed.

Discussion on co-governance was thus ruled out of scope for the inquiry.

Despite that, In its interim decision on the application, published on September 1, the Tribunal said that one thing all Maori applicants agreed on was that the composition of the committees “should be on a co-governance (50: 50) basis.”

“There was agreement among the claimants and interested parties that composition of the committees was inextricably wound up with the appointments process and therefore in scope for the priority hearing, and that nothing less than a 50: 50 partnership of Māori and other members (local authority and the Crown) could be acceptable in Treaty terms.” the Tribunal report said.

“For membership of the regional committees to deliver the Crown’s intended reform outcomes, the claimants and interested parties argued that co-governance must be the fundamental basis of appointing the members.

“Crown counsel, on the other hand, submitted that composition issues were outside the scope of the priority inquiry and that issues of procedural fairness would prevent the Tribunal from addressing the evidence and submissions of those parties who have ‘touched on the issue.”

But there are significant concessions to Maori planned in the legislation.

The so-called Randerson review of the Resource Management Act, chaired by Judge Tony Randerson, recommended a clear statement on the Treaty: “that in achieving the purpose of this Act, those exercising functions and powers under it must give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

This would replace the current Resource Management Act requirement that decision-makers “take into account the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

In his speech to the Local Government conference, Parker said: “We have adopted the recommendation of the Randerson Panel to establish a new National Māori Entity, which will be an Independent Statutory Authority.

“It will have input into the National Planning Framework and have the ability to provide advice to anyone working in the system.

“It will monitor Te Tiriti performance in the system to assess whether the new system is giving effect to the principles of Te Tiriti.

“It is intended that Māori will determine the membership of the National Māori Entity.”

And the overall document will adopt a Te Ao Maori perspective on resource management which will be included in its purpose and the principles which will guide how decisions under the new legislation should be made.

“This will include providing for ‘Te Oranga o Te Taiao’, a te ao Māori phrase that translates to the health and wellbeing of the environment,” Parker told the conference.

“Te Oranga o Te Taiao is defined as an intergenerational ethic for all New Zealanders to support a more responsible and positive relationship with the natural environment.

“We have listened to the feedback provided to the Environment Select Committee inquiry on an exposure draft of key parts of the NBA, and we have worked closely with iwi and Māori groups on better articulating what the concept means and how it will be applied.

“Te Oranga o te Taiao places greater emphasis on understanding the interconnections between different parts of the environment, including people.

“This will help achieve our desired outcomes and better manage cumulative effects.”

Parker is also proposing to introduce the companion piece of legislation to the Natural and Built Environments Bill, the Spatial Planning Act, before Christmas.

Both pieces of legislation will spend six months in a Select Committee with the intention that they be passed before the election.