1 Jul 2021

Hapū, iwi concerned centralisation of water management won't have Māori representation

8:25 am on 1 July 2021

As the government unveils its ambitious new plan for water infrastructure reform, hapū and iwi are worried the move towards centralisation will drown them out.

Water tap running.

File image. Photo: 123RF

The 'three waters system' would take the control of of drinking, waste and storm water out of the hands of 67 different councils and into the control of four entities.

Auckland and Northland are grouped together while Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and upper Manawatū and Whanganui make up the second entity.

The Nelson-Tasman region is incorporated into the eastern and lower parts of the North Island group, while the rest of the South Island is the fourth entity.

The four entities would be run by boards appointed with input from councils and with expertise in water infrastructure.

In Te Tai Tokerau, many Māori communities aren't connected to the regional drinking water supply or the wastewater system.

Ricky Houghton, chief executive of He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia, has saved more than 550 houses from mortgagee sales in the Far North.

Ricky Houghton. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Ricky Houghton runs social housing agency He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia where he said 90 percent of homes in the region were not connected to the council-run drinking or sewerage systems.

Instead, they had their own water and septic tanks where they had to pay for the waste to be removed every three to five years.

He was not happy Auckland and Northland would be grouped together under the new plan.

"I don't want to subsidise anyone in the middle of Ponsonby who chooses to live in Ponsonby and not care about the water.

"They're going to advertise the cost across the board and take an average, and if we're managing our water - and we're not even using [the water infrastructure] - I don't see why we should be charged.

"If I'm not hooked up to it, I'm not benefiting from it."

Ot would likely be "another 100 years" until all homes in Kaitaia were connected to the sewerage and drinking water system, Houghton said.

An hour and a half's drive away in Omanaia, a small settlement of the Hokianga, Dallas King said sewerage was being pumped directly into the harbour.

She was hopeful that would change under the new plan but was worried their infrastructure needs of her whānau and hapū would not be a priority.

"When you're in the mix with other bigger, much more demanding communities ... what will be considered in this type of entity as higher needs, higher demands, we're going to be way down the list and that's really worrying for us."

The new plan lacked strong provisions for iwi and hapū to have a say on the design of the infrastructure, King said.

That was recently raised by Ngāi Tahu after the political debate over a new South Island water entity, where National claimed iwi would get 50 percent ownership.

Ngāi Tahu freshwater group chair Dr Te Maire Tau said they simply wanted to help design the structure and share governance responsibilities.

Minister of local government Nanaia Mahuta has now confirmed water assets would remain in public ownership, to be governed by an independently-appointed board.

While there would be Treaty partnership on an oversight group, she would not guarantee mana whenua representation on the board of the new regional entities.

"At the partnership level in terms of governance oversight, I think that's entirely achievable but let's be very clear - that's two steps away from the directors that are required to have the requisite skill set to be able to undertake the governance of these water service entities."

Despite that, ACT leader David Seymour insisted water infrastructure would be co-governed with iwi, which he strongly opposed.

"I'm responding to the speculation of what they are going to do, obviously you're allowed to comment on policies before they happen as well as after they happen; the ACT Party's position is very clear, I don't think that co-governing water management is going to make the water flow any better or cleaner."

Māori party co-leader Debbie Ngārewa-Packer had major concerns about the centralised approach.

"It's not something that's matching what Māori are doing," she said.

"Māori themselves within the iwi are decentralising into more hapū/whānau centric so we could be at a bit of a crossroads in where we're going."

That tension would likely be represented in feedback from iwi and hapū, she said.

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