Co-governance of the country’s water supplies appears back up for debate after the government sent its controversial Three Waters policy back to the drawing board. Iwi leaders, however, are warning against reneging on commitments to Māori.
A raft of policy changes, including an increase to the minimum wage and the scrapping of the RNZ and TVNZ merger were unveiled at the post-cabinet press conference today, with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins saying the government was focusing on ‘bread and butter' cost of living issues.
On Three Waters, Hipkins said he had instructed incoming Local Government Minister Kieren McAnulty to figure out how to refine the policy.
In its current form, Three Waters provides that water assets be grouped into four publicly-owned water entities. Equal numbers of mana whenua and council-nominated officials would govern those entities.
Some 88,000 public submissions on the topic have been made to the government, most of which were against the moves.
'Don't back down'
At Waitangi on Friday, Tukoroirangi Morgan of the Iwi Chairs Forum encouraged the prime minister not to back down in the face of increasing attacks on the policy from the opposition benches, accusing National and ACT of "fanning the flames of racism”.
"There is nothing mysterious about Three Waters - it's all about pipes under the ground. Our view is as it has always been: We stand here at Waitangi, the cradle of the Treaty of Waitangi, and here is the embodiment of partnership," Morgan said.
"What we seek from this government is an ongoing commitment that partnership will amplified and affirmed through Three Waters, [it is an] opportunity for the Crown and Māori to work together in a meaningful and significant way," Morgan said.
Pressed about the co-governance component of Three Waters today, Hipkins wouldn’t rule out dumping it, saying he had told McAnulty to consult with its harshest critics.
"Cabinet has asked the new minister for local government to report back on options for refocusing the reforms and that will mean seeking further feedback from local government and from Māori," he said.
Hipkins said the floods in Tāmaki Makaurau illustrated the "need for reform was unquestionable" but the government had been doing "too much, too fast".
In a statement on Wednesday evening, Morgan renewed his call for Iwi leadership within the Three Waters framework.
"Tuku Morgan is warning the government against reneging on any commitment to provide Maori/iwi participation in the governance direction of our national water resources," the statement says.
“You just need to look at what has occurred in Tāmaki Makaurau to understand that we are at a critical cross-road in the water space but this will require support from Maori in general but Waikato-Tainui in particular."
The Prime Minister was "provided with a solid position" at the Iwi Leaders Group hui in Waitangi late last week Morgan said.
"We need to be at the table to lead and determine the strategic direction of our water resources,” Morgan said.