Politics / Te Ao Māori

Government told act on Waitangi Tribunal's findings on freshwater degradation

09:55 am on 29 August 2019

Iwi leaders are urging the government not to sideline a landmark Waitangi Tribunal report into water rights.

The Tongariro River Photo: 123rf.com

The Waitangi Tribunal has released a report that says the law breaches the Treaty of Waitangi because it has failed to actively protect freshwater bodies, many of which are now degraded.

It is calling for the Crown to recognise Māori proprietary rights, allocate freshwater to hapū and iwi, and set up a national freshwater co-governance body.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu has welcomed the findings and says ministers must not and cannot sideline the report.

Its kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai says the Crown has a legal duty to recognise and give back the control of waterways to iwi.

"Forty percent of Aotearoa is in the Ngāi Tahu takiwā and over 75 percent of the country's irrigation area is in Canterbury and Otago, where there is a crisis. The Crown has a legal duty to recognise and provide for Ngāi Tahu rights and interests in this taonga."

Ms Tumahai says Ngāi Tahu agrees with the Tribunal's findings that the RMA is not compliant with te Tiriti.

"Ngāi Tahu have been working for a number of years on freshwater issues and we have a range of advanced solutions that go beyond allocation and representative models.

"We are positioned to make a valuable contribution and to provide fair and durable solutions, which acknowledge a resource that is precious and fundamental to everyone living in the South Island and throughout Aotearoa," she said.

Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai says the Crown has a legal duty to give back control of waterways to iwi. Photo: Supplied / Ngāi Tahu

The claim to the Waitangi Tribunal was made in 2012 by the Māori Council, with many others supporting it, including the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group.

Its chairperson, Rukumoana Schaafhausen, welcomes the recommendations and says it has tried to work with the Crown but it has fallen short.

"We have actively engaged in good faith with the Crown on every freshwater reform initiative the Crown has announced since 2007, with successive governments committing to progress the resolution of freshwater rights and interests. However, while we have made some progress on improving elements of freshwater management, the Crown has constantly stopped short of taking the fundamental steps needed to address Iwi and hapū rights and interests."

The Waitangi Tribunal report slammed the Crown for letting rivers and lakes get so polluted and has essentially blocked Māori from helping to fix the problem.

Ms Schaafhausen says the rhetoric that has been pushed that water is not owned by anyone while they continue to degrade is tiresome.

"Iwi and hapū are tired of being told by the Crown that "no one owns water" or that "everyone owns water" while we see our taonga tuku iho being mismanaged and in a highly-vulnerable state throughout the motu".

Ms Schaafhausen told Morning Report the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group was committed to working collaboratively with the Crown and other parties to develop enduring solutions.

"Success looks like ... iwi and hapū working with this government to co-develop meaningful reforms that both address our rights and interests and at the same time improve the health and wellbeing of our waterways" - Rukumoana Schaafhausen

Ngāi Tahu's Lisa Tumahai agreed.

"The next step for us is to discuss this report's recommendations - and broader freshwater concerns - directly with the Crown. Given how much of New Zealand's freshwater sits solely within our takiwā, we need to have a clear process of engagement with the Crown directly as our Treaty partner," she said.

Dr Te Maire Tau, co-chair of the freshwater committee at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, told Morning Report any resolution had to be done by catchment rather than nationally.

"There's talk of allocation, there's talk of representative bodies on a national basis. But what that really does is it ignores basic data on understanding water. Water flows in catchment so it needs to be targeted towards the solution of water use."

"My real concern about this all is that it will become a political issue without concerning itself with what is fundamental and that's water" - Dr Te Maire Tau

Political settlements between the Crown and the tribes had to be taken into account.

"The Crown simply can't ignore the deeds of settlement it's with different tribal groups because they've actually signed contracts between Parliament and tribes and quite a few of them are specific to water with each iwi group. "