Māori Council scrutinises water ownership

By Dean Nathan

New Zealand Māori Council representative Donna Hall says the management of water resources cannot progress until the issue of ownership has been addressed. This comes following the release of the government's freshwater reforms.

New Zealand Māori Council representative Donna Hall questions the government's allocation of water rights following the release of the government's freshwater reforms.

“Basically for everyone who gets that paper the New Zealand Māori Council sees the position like this.  What the Government is doing is working out whose going to be the tenant of the house and what colour the walls are going to be painted and what a fair rental will be.  But it hasnt asked itself who owns the house.  That is the position that the council takes.  There is a fundamental question to be asked about water and it needs to be answered,” says Māori Council lawyer, Donna Hall.

According to the Ministry for the Environment's website, the government's proposed freshwater reforms aim to improve iwi and hapū participation in freshwater governance and management.

But some iwi are concerned that the government may not adhere to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Professor Patu Hohepa from Te Mahurehure says, “The government continues to allocate rights for the commercial use of water while maintaining that no one owns it.  What are they doing to our water? Under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, we have rights to water, while their job is to maintain water quality.  If they can't do that then we will.”

The New Zealand Māori Council has played a lead role in representing Māori water claims. Interest began in 2008 when Ngāti Rangiwewehi of Rotorua went before the Environment Court to oppose the further abstraction of water from Taniwha Springs with Donna Hall as counsel.

Hall says, “The water case is gonna come back on for hearing.  I'm actually up here today.  I've just finished meeting with Professor Hohepa who has agreed to give the customary evidence of why Māori claim to have particular and significant interest in water.”

“It's time to address this matter again.  What exactly are our customary rights to water and geothermal resources in our district that have been taken and sold by government?  It's time to take another look,” says Hohepa.

Donna Hall hopes the freshwater claims will be back before the Waitangi Tribunal from September.