Calls for a tax on water - the real issue of water rights

By Dean Nathan

Hapū of Poroti say calls for a tax on water are a diversion from the real issue of water rights.  They're in preparations to march in opposition to an application to build a water-bottling factory in their community, while for generations the community says they've been denied any role whatsoever in the management of their own resource. 

On this particular day, we are privileged to be taken by local elder Hona Edwards to a beautiful secluded part of the Waipao stream along with his son Ngawaru and three grandchildren.  

He tells us, "Te Waipao (the stream) is our ancestor whose name is derived from the sound of rocks you hear clashing due to the strong water current.  We come here to harvest watercress taro, fresh water crayfish and eels as well as trout, and to ensure that our grandchildren maintain a relationship with this ancestor Te Waipao.”

Across the road at Maungarongo Marae, locals say the recent calls by political parties for a water tax are a diversion from the real issue of water rights.

Lorraine Norris says, "Tax! Let us not forget the real issue and the real issue is the mana of the tangata whenua.  It is their resource! They are the ones who should be able to say what happens to the resource.”

Tribal leader Taipari Munroe says, "We continue to maintain that we are the authority over this resource handed down by our ancestors to the current generation.  Despite the various water tax policies announced during this election campaign, let's not forget the real issue here.”

The waters of Te Waipao are also renowned for their spiritual healing properties. Locals say a water tax will do nothing to stop outsiders controlling and profiting from their resource and they've notified the police of their intention to march in opposition to the proposal at hand.

Hona says, "My father told me that if I was ever ill to bathe my body in our ancestor, Te Waipao. The water temperature will rise and get hot with his spirit and in doing, heal the body." 

The respective hapū of Poroti allege that the council is conflicted in its consideration of the application to build a water-bottling factory at Poroti.  Valued at $52 million per annum, the total current water allocation at Poroti Springs is shared between the Whangarei District Council and two water companies that council has provided with the infrastructure needed in their commercial operations.

Taipari Munroe says, "The application to build a factory is but another issue.  I'm advising the hapū of Poroti to maintain the fact that we are the authority over this resource.

Te Kāea is awaiting comment from the council on this matter with the period for submissions on the resource consent application to close next week.