Greens alone side with Maori on water issue

DION TUUTA
Last updated 07:53 11/02/2013

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OPINION: K ia ora koutou.

I'm considering voting Green at the next general election.

This might sound surprising to some of you given that I'm the CEO of a major Taranaki dairy farming enterprise, but just stick with me and I will enlighten you as to why later on. Funnily enough it's all about water and due consideration.

Water has been something of a talking point for the last couple of years - particularly when the National Government announced its intention to sell off state-owned enterprises, which sparked opposition by Iwi groups seeking to have Maori interests in water recognised and protected before any sales could proceed.

Here in Taranaki, a similar issue has been playing out for well over a decade in the form of the proposal to transfer ownership of the Cold Creek Water Scheme from the South Taranaki District Council (STDC) to the local users in the form of Cold Creek Community Water Supply Ltd.

For those unaware of the history - during the 1980s the Cold Creek water scheme was built by local farmers and residents.

It is currently operated and maintained by the users.

The scheme was funded by a 50 per cent subsidy from the then Ministry of Works and Development (ie the taxpayer), partly by users, and partly by bridging finance and loans from the former Egmont County Council. This financial support was conditional on the scheme being vested in the local authority (currently the South Taranaki District Council).

The scheme has been a great success and has contributed to great productivity gains within the catchment area of around 60-70 per cent.

So what's the problem you might ask? The problem is that the legislative framework which controls our land interest has denied and continues to deny Taranaki Maori any real say in this process.

The matter has now been before Parliament twice in the form of the South Taranaki District Council (Cold Creek Rural Water Supply) Bill and is no doubt soon to be passed into legislation - despite the concerns of Taranaki Maori being put to the select committee hearing the matter.

The parliamentary debates on the bill record how the bill's sponsor, National MP Chester Borrows, pretty much dismissed Maori concerns about the matter as being limited to complaints over consultation.

While the lack of proper consultation was certainly one issue, Maori concerns about the privatisation of the water infrastructure extended far beyond the Crown and STDC's poor consultation to potential future impacts on land value and future access to water.

Given the sensitivities around Maori issues and water rights you might have thought a little more engagement was warranted. Given the fact that PKW Incorporation itself had lodged numerous objections to the proposal since at least the late 1990s one might have thought a little more active consultation might have occurred.

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But despite being a land owner with properties affected by the scheme, PKW has been excluded from the process due to the perpetual leases over the lands. The lessees in occupation have a lease in perpetuity which grants them a legal property right relating to the ownership of chattels, dairy company shares, improvements on the land and improvements to the land.

As a result, local authorities treat the occupier on the land rather than the Maori land owners (in the form of PKW) as the group entitled to rights accorded to water supply.

The process to complete the privatisation of the Cold Creek water scheme requires a referendum of eligible electors to approve the transfer. Eligibility is restricted to residential electors serviced by the scheme or a ratepayer elector serviced within the scheme.

Under these criteria iwi will be unable to participate, PKW will be unable to participate and even the marae which are within the scheme will be unable to participate.

Therefore once again, despite being the underlying land owner, Taranaki Maori have no say over what happens on their land. And the Maori owners and iwi views on the issue are pretty much ignored by our political decision- makers.

That is apart from the Green Party - who actually took the time to consider our submissions and seriously consider Taranaki Maori concerns. Only the Greens expressed any understanding of the potential for the privatisation to negatively affect Taranaki Maori interests in this area and only the Greens expressed any concern about the precedent which the bill might set for water management into the future.

Despite the Green's support of our views I have no doubt that the bill will be passed into law and the water scheme will be privatised without Maori interests being protected.

It's interesting to consider that this is occurring at a time when the Crown is trying to settle the remaining Taranaki Treaty claims. I would have thought that after coming so close to restoring the honour of the Crown they'd at least give it a couple of days before breaching the Treaty again.

Mauriora.

- Taranaki Daily News

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