Freshwater debate on Iwi rights deserves informed discussion

The Māori Party welcomes the Government’s Consultation Document on fresh water but it says the opening line on Iwi rights and interests is playing into the hands of the ignorant.

The chapter begins with the statement “No one owns the water”.

“Most people don’t understand what Treaty rights to water are or why they exist. It’s an unhelpful starting point for public discussion.

“Iwi have discussed these issues in good faith with the Government for the last seven years. The public should be encouraged to understand the nature of those rights rather than resorting to slogans”, says Mr Flavell.

The discussion document does acknowledge that the Waitangi Tribunal recognised that hapū and iwi do have proprietary rights to control access to and the use of local waterways.

Māori Party Co-leader Marama Fox says the public need to understand that others already have water rights that amount to ownership.

“Local councils already grant 30 year water rights to others. We’re not talking about Māori rights – we’re talking about commercial rights to farmers, wine growers and companies that bottle water for sale.

“These companies get allocated water for free, they use it, abuse it and make a handsome profit from it. There are negligible requirements for them to look after the water they profit from. It’s corporate welfare. How they’ve managed to get away with it for so long is beyond me”, says Mrs Fox.

The consultation document does propose creating some environmental conditions standards on water right owners but makes scant reference to how the Government will deal with Iwi claims to water allocation.

One of the significant contributions the Māori Party and Iwi Leaders have made to the national discussion on fresh water over the years has been the inclusion of Te Mana o Te Wai (the health and well-being of water) as a guiding principle in the National Policy Statement.

Te Mana o Te Wai is about the health and wellbeing of the waterways, the general environment and the people.

“While we’re pleased to see the Consultation Document recognise Te Mana o Te Wai as a guiding principle for freshwater management, we would like to see that principle strengthened further in the RMA”, says Mr Flavell.

Ultimately, the Māori Party would like to see specific targets set for the quality and vitality of fresh water so it is safe to drink, gather kai from and swim in.

“Te Mana o Te Wai as a national principle benefits everyone living in this country. Māori want to have healthy, life-giving rivers, lakes and wetlands that everyone can enjoy.”

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