Freshwater management: Auditor-General stresses value of close ties between regional councils, Māori

6:30 pm on 21 May 2024
Paines Ford, Takaka

Paines Ford, Takaka Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Building meaningful and enduring relationships between iwi, hapū and regional councils is important to supporting better freshwater management, according to a new report by the auditor-general.

The report looks at progress on recommendations made in 2019 by the auditor-general and considers how well four regional councils - Waikato, Taranaki, Horizons and Environment Southland - work with Māori in their regions to manage freshwater quality.

It found although all four councils improved the way they worked with iwi and hapū, representatives in each rohe told Auditor-General staff they wanted more enduring and meaningful relationships with regional councils.

Under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, the Resource Management Act 1991, Treaty settlements and other legislation, regional councils have a statutory obligation to involve tangata whenua when it comes to managing freshwater.

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John Ryan Photo: Controller and Auditor General

Auditor-general John Ryan said strong ties between Māori and officials were needed to help combat any problems around freshwater.

"Regional councils need meaningful relationships with iwi and hapū because of the deep cultural and traditional connections that tangata whenua have with water bodies and water.

"We heard how strong relationships can benefit work on decision-making for resource consent applications and consulting on regional plan updates. Mutually beneficial relationships can also help to address long-term issues in managing freshwater, such as workforce capacity issues," Ryan said.

Performance auditor Hamish Duff echoed this and said strong relationships between the two has benefits for the entire community.

"For example, in one region we saw that the partnership between an iwi and a council was leading to reduced contaminants fowing into one water catchment, creating jobs, developing mahinga kai for the iwi as well as creating resources for farmers to reduce their business risk from future environmental regulations," Duff said.

Ryan said he wanted the four regional councils to take note of how other councils across the motu have maintained strong links with Māori in their area.

"Councils need strong relationships to work effectively and to maintain the trust and confidence of all the communities they serve. I encourage all councils to consider how they can learn from the observations in this report and the approaches that different councils have taken to working more effectively with iwi and hapū to manage freshwater quality," Ryan said.

The auditor-general will continue to monitor how regional councils are working to build stronger ties with Māori in their region.

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