Iwi to be consulted on proposed Department of Conservation policy changes

12:06 pm on 12 May 2021

Iwi consultation on changes needed to bring the Department of Conservation's policies in line with the Treaty of Waitangi, as per its legislation, is going ahead.

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Acting Minister of Conservation Ayesha Verrall will attend meetings next week. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The National Party has criticised the recommendations put forward in a report by the department's (DOC) options development group, which was tasked with reviewing the Conservation Act 1987 to bring it in line with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The review was in response to a Supreme Court judgment from 2018, which found decisions made by DOC in respect to Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki did not give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The draft recommendations from the options development group include: providing for the delegation, transfer and devolution of functions and powers within the conservation system to tangata whenua, revoking Crown ownership of indigenous species, and ensuring decisions on conservation give weight to mātauranga (Māori knowledge) and upholding tikanga.

It also calls for the resolution of tangata whenua rights and interests in fresh water and marine environments, and reforming the ownership model of public conservation lands and waters "to reflect the enduring relationships tangata whenua have with these places and the resources/taonga that reside within them".

National Party conservation spokesperson Jacqui Dean has called for a "national conversation about the changes being made to New Zealand in the name of radical interpretations of the Treaty".

National MP Jacqui Dean

National Party conservation spokesperson Jacqui Dean. Photo: RNZ / Mei Heron

She has also asked for a please explain as to why the DOC website has been updated to say consultation with iwi on the proposed document has been put on hold until further notice.

DOC deputy director-general kahui kaupapa atawhai Michelle Hippolite said it had not been put on hold, but two scheduled meetings to be held in Wairoa and Gisborne this week had been cancelled in order for acting minister of conservation Ayesha Verrall to be briefed.

"Given the misinterpretation about the General Policies Review, I felt it was important the minister had all the facts and remained comfortable with the process being led by the ODG [options development group]," Hippolite said.

"Meetings will resume next week."

Verrall said the process of reviewing the Conservation Act was long-running, and in response to the court case which "challenged whether DOC was fulfilling its obligations under the Treaty".

She said no decisions on the recommendations had been made, and it was important that "robust consultation" was able to continue.