River deal 'win for all'

Last updated 00:16 23/08/2008

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An environmentally flavoured settlement of Waikato-Tainui's multimillion-dollar Waikato River claim is a win for a sustainable New Zealand, according to Treaty Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen.

But the deed of settlement, signed amid song, dance, and more than 1000 spectators and participants at Turangawaewae Marae yesterday, also represents a good result for Waikato-Tainui and its 50,000 tribal members.

Beyond the river cleanup clauses, and new concepts of co-management that will ultimately require a shift in statutory environmental management powers, Waikato-Tainui appears to have been well compensated for past injustices related to the river.

Under the deed, which was still under negotiation as late as Thursday evening, the Crown will:

Make an upfront contribution of $20 million to the Tainui Endowed College at Hopuhopu.

Contribute $7 million annually for 30 years to a cleanup fund, which will operate under Tainui's new governance structure of the Waikato Raupatu River Trust.

Provide the trust with $1 million a year for 30 years to fund Waikato-Tainui's co-management processes.

Fund a study to identify the operating costs of the Guardians of the Waikato River and Waikato River Statutory Board.

Allow Waikato-Tainui to make regulations under fisheries and conservation legislation under the settlement legislation.

Provide for the tribe to discuss the gifting of, or offering co-management of, river-related Crown land.

Waikato-Tainui will also have first right of refusal on the purchase of the Huntly Power Station and mining rights under the Waikato River, should a future government look to sell them.

Legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament before November.

The settlement has drawn heavily on the Treaty of Waitangi's spirit of partnership, with both parties pledging to work together in a river cleanup process already being touted as one of the most important environmental undertakings in New Zealand.

Waikato-Tainui co-negotiator Tukoroirangi Morgan and Dr Cullen both put issues of river ownership to one side, saying restoring its health, and working together, were the main issues.

"It is a huge leap of faith going into an era of co-management," Mr Morgan said.

"This is a remarkably significant deal, because what it does is change the world for us.

"We were once a spectator in the process. We are now truly a partner of the Crown in relation to the protection and restoration of our ancestral river Waikato."

Dr Cullen said recognising interests of Waikato Tainui within the web of relationships and legislation that already govern the management of the river made it among the most complex set of challenges faced in the Treaty settlements process to date.

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"It is said that around every bend in the mighty Waikato a taniwha can be found," he said.

"In the three years of this negotiating process, I think we can all agree that we found every single one."

He said the settlement represented the highest level of co-management achieved anywhere in New Zealand.

"With this agreement, the Crown is showing Waikato-Tainui that we are committed to restoring the health of the Waikato River and to a cleanup process that will be one of the most important environmental undertakings in New Zealand's history."

Dr Cullen said signing the settlement was about more than acknowledging "the painful history of this river".

"The signatories to this deed are agreeing to a shared vision for the Waikato River; a vision of a cleaner river; a vision of a river that will be an asset for all our communities; a vision of a river that can be a proud symbol of a truly sustainable New Zealand."

- Waikato Times

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