Gov­ern­ment dic­ing with Maori power

At best a con­sis­tent ap­proach — at worst a strait­jacket

The Northern Advocate - - Nation - Com­ment Au­drey Young

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter David Parker had rea­son to be pleased with the turnout to his wa­ter speech at the Bee­hive on Mon­day. One group, how­ever, was no­table by its ab­sence — iwi lead­ers.

Un­til now, the lead­ers have been at the heart of the al­beit slow process to de­velop a new wa­ter pol­icy at a na­tional level.

The re­la­tion­ship of iwi chairs with the former Gov­ern­ment evolved into a spe­cial and al­most ex­clu­sive one on a whole host of is­sues through the Iwi Chairs Fo­rum of sev­eral hun­dred iwi lead­ers, and with a smaller iwi group on fresh­wa­ter which re­ported back to the group.

The new Gov­ern­ment wants to work with a broader Maori group, which in­her­ently di­lutes the in­flu­ence and power of the iwi lead­ers.

It has es­tab­lished its own Maori ad­vi­sory group, Kahui Wai Maori. It in­cludes some high busi­ness fly­ers such as Kingi Smiler, the chair­man of Mi­raka dairy com­pany, Traci Houpapa, the chair­woman of the Fed­er­a­tion of Maori Au­thor­i­ties, and Paul Mor­gan, the chair­man of the Wakatu In­cor­po­ra­tion, and some fa­mil­iar names such as former Labour Party elder states­man Dover Sa­muels and lawyer and ac­tivist An­nette Sykes.

Iwi lead­ers have been in­vited to nom­i­nate peo­ple to join the new body but have so far de­clined. The new group will have in­put into Cab­i­net pa­pers be­fore they are sub­mit­ted to Cab­i­net and have their own sec­re­tar­iat based in the Min­istry for the En­vi­ron­ment.

The boy­cott by iwi lead­ers in fresh­wa­ter pol­icy high­lights an im­por­tant evo­lu­tion in Treaty of Waitangi re­la­tion­ships, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to the con­cept of part­ner­ship.

Who is the Crown’s Treaty part­ner? Should the Crown get to fash­ion the shape of the part­ner? What sort of stand­ing should they have?

And was it rea­son­able for the new Gov­ern­ment to have aban­doned the fresh­wa­ter iwi lead­ers group in the way it has?

Na­tional found it easy to en­gage with iwi lead­ers as the Treaty part­ner be­cause it was a nat­u­ral con­tin­u­a­tion from his­toric Treaty set­tle­ments — over 60 set­tle­ment acts in 25 years — in which statu­tory re­la­tion­ships were es­tab­lished be­tween the Crown and iwi.

There was no rea­son for the Gov­ern­ment not to use the same bod­ies to ex­tend the re­la­tion­ships be­yond set­tle­ment.

Iwi lead­ers may once have been la­belled “the Brown Ta­ble” by Labour’s ur­ban ac­tivists and Win­ston Peters when he op­posed the fish­eries set­tle­ment, but af­ter the Treaty set­tle­ments process, they can­not be ac­cused of hav­ing no man­date.

The Maori Party in its early days used to de­scribe it­self as “the Treaty part­ner” but re­alised soon enough that Na­tional saw iwi lead­ers as the part­ner, and they were be­ing brought into the in­ner sanc­tum of de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

In the com­pe­ti­tion for in­flu­ence be­tween pan-Maori or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Maori Coun­cil and iwi, Na­tional came down firmly on the side of iwi fun­da­men­tal­ists.

Na­tional gave them re­spect. Labour and New Zealand First’s cool­ness to­wards the Iwi Chairs Fo­rum sug­gests it in­ter­preted the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Na­tional and iwi lead­ers as an act of po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance rather than po­lit­i­cal prag­ma­tism.

What­ever has mo­ti­vated the Gov­ern­ment, it is clear that it is un­will­ing to give the fo­rum a spe­cial sta­tus above ad­vo­cacy or ac­tivist groups.

The iconic im­age of vet­eran ac­tivist Tite­whai Harawira at the Cab­i­net ta­ble with Jacinda Ardern sym­bol­ised the shift.

But the fact is when it comes to deal­ing with Maori in­ter­ests in wa­ter on a catch­ment-by-catch­ment ba­sis, as the David Parker plan will, the re­gional coun­cils will not be deal­ing with the bit­terly di­vided Maori Coun­cil nor the even more bit­terly di­vided Maori Women’s Wel­fare League.

It is go­ing to be iwi of the area and the hapu who own land.

The vexed is­sue of the Treaty part­ner­ship was high­lighted in a broader con­text this week when Maori Crown Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Kelvin Davis re­leased the Cab­i­net pa­per giv­ing some de­tails about the new Gov­ern­ment agency he is cre­at­ing to over­see the whole gamut of Crown and Maori en­gage­ment.

And it again con­firms a Gov­ern­ment down­grade of iwi lead­er­ship groups as Treaty part­ners.

In it, he says that iwi and hapu should be treated as Treaty part­ners, but that did not ap­ply to the in­sti­tu­tion of the Iwi Chairs Fo­rum — sev­eral hun­dred iwi lead­ers with whom Na­tional en­gaged reg­u­larly and in which the size of the group­ing gave them po­lit­i­cal strength.

“The Crown’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are to all Maori, not just the fo­rum,” he said.

The agency will be set up very quickly, by or­der in coun­cil, avoid­ing the need for leg­is­la­tion.

It was orig­i­nally to have been called the Of­fice for Crown Maori Part­ner­ship.

But that was ve­toed by New Zealand First, al­though that is not men­tioned in the Cab­i­net pa­per.

Davis says he ruled out the term part­ner­ship “be­cause we are not at a point of be­ing able to de­clare that we are there yet”.

The fact that Win­ston Peters does not ac­cept the con­cept of part­ner­ship as set out in 1987 Lands case ap­pears not to be an in­sur­mount­able dif­fi­culty for the Gov­ern­ment.

One of the pri­mary aims of the new agency will be to make the Crown a bet­ter Treaty part­ner. That was one of the con­sis­tent mes­sages Davis heard from con­sul­ta­tion hui he held.

For a small agency sit­ting within the Min­istry of Jus­tice, it will have a hugely am­bi­tious brief in con­tro­ver­sial ar­eas.

It will be re­spon­si­ble for con­tem­po­rary Treaty claims such as flora and fauna, it will help run ma­jor events such as Waitangi Day, and it will have an in­ter­est in con­sti­tu­tional changes.

It will work across the pub­lic sec­tor to ad­vise on their Maori en­gage­ment poli­cies and prac­tices. It will ad­vise Gov­ern­ment de­part­ments how to en­gage, when to en­gage, and which iwi or groups to en­gage with.

And, rather like an ERO, it will re­view the per­for­mance of Gov­ern­ment de­part­ments in their en­gage­ment.

Re­plac­ing what was an or­ganic and ad hoc ap­proach by Gov­ern­ment agen­cies’ en­gage­ment with Maori, the new agency will be­come the gate­keeper and con­troller.

At best it will pro­vide a con­sis­tent ap­proach. At worst it will act as a strait­jacket on Crown and Maori re­la­tions.


John Key’s Na­tional Gov­ern­ment found it easy to en­gage with iwi lead­ers as the Treaty part­ner be­cause it was a nat­u­ral con­tin­u­a­tion from his­toric Treaty set­tle­ments. There was no rea­son for the Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment to not to use the same bod­ies, Au­drey Young writes.

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