Key Delegates Water Give-Away

PM Delegates Water Give-Away

by Mike Butler

Prime Minister John Key is moving towards granting preferential water rights to government-created tribal corporations, thus running the risk of losing the support of large swathes of voters who supported the National Party’s previous one-water-law-for-all position.

A report commissioned by the Iwi Leaders Group calling for an equitable, permanent share of water allocations was released today, following a recent Cabinet Paper proposing criteria to give preferential access on a case-by-case basis, to private tribal companies that pay little tax.

Talks between the powerful Iwi Leaders Group and the Government, fronted by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and Environment Minister Nick Smith, are at a critical stage after ministers rejected a nationwide Waterlords settlement along the lines of the outrageous Sealords deal over Maori commercial fishing claims and the Treelords giveaway of Central North Island forestry.

The claim that tribes own the water has no merit and only exists because it has repeated so often that some have started to take it as a fact.

When nineteenth century chiefs sold the large blocks of land, they also sold the water, the trees, everything above the land, and everything below it, according to deeds of land purchases that the Iwi Leaders Group conveniently ignores.

For instance, Deed No. 420 in Maori Deeds of Land Purchases in the North Island of New Zealand, by Henry Hanson Turton, for the Upper Waikato Block transaction says that the government paid the people of Ngatimahanga, Ngatitamainu and Ngatihourua £1000 on September 15, 1864, in a sale that included trees, minerals, waters, rivers, lakes, streams, and all appertaining to the said land or beneath the surface of the said land.

That £1000 for an area between the Waipa and Waikato rivers from Ngaruawahia to Lake Taupo, in 1864 would be worth $103,835.86 today, according to the Reserve Bank Inflation calculator.

These were standard deeds used in all transactions of that time.

How has the foolish Key-led government handled this latest opportunistic bid by tribal companies for water ownership? The government:
1. Acknowledges part-Maori interests and rights in freshwater;
2. Argues that the extent and nature of those rights are at issue;
3. Says that no one owns the water;
4. Is ready to delegate to regional councils the politically risky task of allocating water to private tribal companies.

Reference to catchment-by-catchment deals at a regional government level appears in the Cabinet paper already mentioned. The Government may set criteria by which local tribal companies can get preferential access to water on that catchment by catchment basis, Smith says.

Key’s duplicitous position of no one owning the water but regional councils can allocate rights to tribes coincides with central-government-driven bids to set up super councils in three regions: Northland, Hawke’s Bay, and Wellington. Each such super-council plan includes and un-elected and unaccountable part-Maori board plus co-governance tribal-council regional planning committees.

Lawyer James Dunne, a partner in Chen Palmer, warned of a possible uninformed public backlash in light of the controversy over the Foreshore and seabed issue.

There certainly should be a public backlash – unless New Zealanders enjoy being lied to and disadvantaged.

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