Over the past two or three weeks, a procession of Maori iwi and hapu in a series of little-noticed appearances before two Select Committees have been asking for more say for Maori over resource management decisions along the co-governance lines of Three Waters.
Their submissions and appearances run counter to the prevailing mood in the Beehive, which appears to be to back off co-governance.
But they go further.
There are also clear warnings to the Government that if it fails to maintain the three waters co-governance and increase the resource management Maori representation then it will face Treaty demands over the allocation of water rights.
It is easy to see that if Labour fails to satisfy these submissions, it could face another “foreshore and seabed” moment like it did in 2004 when support for its Maori MPs collapsed. The votes went instead to Te Paati Maori.
What may be more worrying this time is that some of the country’s more conservative iwi with links to the National Party are joining the protests.
The two Maori Ministers from the Key Government, Georgina Te Heuheu and Hekia Parata belong to iwi, which have made submissions; Tuwharetoa and Ngati Porou.
Ngati Porou oppose the Government’s proposal for a National Maori Entity, which would be a seven-person authority appointed by the Environment Minister to monitor the implementation of the new planning legislation decisions “ in order to inform and support positive progress at the national, regional or local level, as relevant, in managing the environment” alongside the requirement in the legislation to “give effect” to the principles of Te Tiriti of Te Waitangi.
Like other iwi submissions, they argued that a national entity would supplant the mana and authority of iwi and hapu and could come between iwi and hapu and the Crown over Treaty settlements.
Kate Walker, a project manager from Te Runanganui O Ngati Porou, said the new legislation fell short of its intended objectives.
“Whilst we can recognize the intent to improve the current resource management system, the drafting of those has been rushed, which is evident in the lack of clarity and integration of the policy objectives in order to develop to deliver the transformational changes intended by this reform,” she said.
“It is crucial that the purpose and related provisions are clear.
“The purpose and its current state is complex and potentially conflicting.”
She said the ambiguities within the Bills before the Committee would trickle through to the implementation of the legislation.
“Ngati Porou do oppose the national Maori entity in its current form, and any monitoring of Treaty performance should be carried out directly between the Crown and the treaty partner,” she said.
Another Ngati Porou spokesperson before the Committee, Agnes Walker, put the case for iwi and hapu involvement in the planning process somewhat more colourfully.
“Don’t do anything about us without us,” she said.
“That is what our (Treaty settlement) Act actually assured us, and I don’t see a lot of that happening in all the intricacies of this bill.”
Environment Minister David Parker has rejected the co-governance model for the Regional Planning Committees, instead requiring the Committees to be appointed by local Government, Māori, and central Government.
“It’s taken us 180 years to get to get to the decision-making table,” said Agnes Walker.
“We have a right to be at the table if it’s anything that impacts on our rohe.
“Now, through this reform, that right is very precarious.”
In its submission, Ngati Porou says the proposed provision for Maori representation on Regional Planning Committees falls short of a Te Tiriti-compliant partnership model.
“Anything short of a 50/50 appointment model between the Crown/local government and iwi/hapu does not represent a partnership and is inconsistent with Te Tiriti and its principles,” their submission says.
“The appointment of Maori representatives to Regional Planning Committees should be the right of iwi and hapu only, in accordance with the whakapapa-based relationship of iwi and hapu with natural resources and other environmental taonga at place.”
The conflict between the rights of iwi and hapu, which are confirmed in already negotiated Treaty settlements and the one size fits all approach in the RMA reforms, is also being contested in the Three Waters legislation.
The Tuwharetoa Trust Board, in its submission, says one of the main concerns of hapu is the lack of recognition of Māori rights and interests.
“The Treaty of Waitangi guarantees Māori the right to land, forests, fisheries, and other natural resources they traditionally owned and occupied,” the submission says.
“It affirms their right to manage and control these resources.
However, the Spatial Planning and Natural and Built Environments Bills do not mention these Treaty rights.
“They do not provide for the recognition or protection of Māori interests in the natural and built environments.
“This is a significant concern for hapu, as our rights and interests may not be adequately considered or protected in the resource management process. “
Tuwharetoa is also concerned that there is inadequate representation for iwi and hapu.
“The Spatial Planning and Natural and Built Environments Bills do not address this issue and provide limited participation of Hapu and other Māori groups in the resource management process,” their submission says.
“This limited involvement is a significant barrier to the fair and equitable allocation of resources.
“It means that the interests and needs of Hapu may not be adequately considered or met.”
In their submission on Three Waters, Tuwharetoa are even more emphatic.
“The Crown’s guarantees to Māori in the Treaty, including the guarantee of tino rangatiratanga, require the use of partnership mechanisms for the joint governance and management of freshwater taonga,” their submission says.
“Iwi without co-governance and co-management arrangements in their Treaty settlements are unable to act effectively as Treaty partners in freshwater management.”
There was a similar case made by the CEO of the Ngati Haua Iwi Trust, whose rohe borders the Waikato River.
Its CEO, Lisa Gardiner, compared the Three Waters co-governance model favourably with the model proposed in the Natural and Built Environments Bill.
“ We would like to highlight that this approach of 5050 is preferable if you consider a large amount of resistance to regional planning committees as set out in the Natural and Built Environment Act,” she said.
A Maori umbrella group, Te Manawa O Nga Wai, representing 53 Iwi and 701 hapu, made a strong submission in favour of co-governance.
Its spokesperson, environmental consultant and member of various Te Arawa Trust boards, Deliah Balle, said the retention of Tiriti-centric governance with regional representative groups ensured in part that Tiriti obligations to the strategic direction of freshwater management in part addressed freshwater rights and interests.
The broader question of Maori rights with respect to freshwater was referred to in a number of submissions to the Committee with the reminder that the water rights case before the Waitangi Tribunal was still unconcluded.
That is the risk the Government now faces. If it pulls back on co-governance, it risks Maori going back to the Tribunal for a full ruling on water allocation.
That is something that both National and Labour Governments have tried to avoid because they recognize the political storm any resolution of the Maori claims would provoke.
And it is also clear that Maori are unhappy with Parker’s rejection of co-governance in the resource management legislation.
Whoever thought planning and wastewater could be so political!