Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Ending the government's charade over water

For the past decade, the government has been responding to the obvious Treaty issues raised by water allocation with the mantra that "no-one owns water". But last year, the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that actually, Māori owned it, and that those rights had never been extinguished. They recommended that iwi bring a test case to claim their rights. And now, that is finally happening:

Mataatua District Māori Council leader Maanu Paul is preparing a case for the High Court to determine whether native title in freshwater exists under New Zealand common law.

A landmark Waitangi Tribunal report in August found Māori have rights over fresh water in New Zealand, and Paul said the Tribunal had recommended the case be taken to the High Court.

"In order to progress the process which the Tribunal recommended - that the Crown and Māori sit down and work together - we have to get the government to accept that the decision of the tribunal is the one that they will ride with, and we have to get them to accept that the highest court in the land - the Supreme Court ruling - stands."

"When we're successful in the High Court it takes the status of the recommendation from the tribunal - from one of recommendatory only - to one of a mandatory position, and that's the difference we want to see."

The next step is obviously to use a favourable ruling to force a settlement. And I wish them luck with that. Because the case for Māori ownership seems pretty overwhelming. At the same time, they shouldn't have to do this at all. The Waitangi Tribunal has ruled, and a fair-minded government with a commitment to its Treaty obligations would have recognised this and sought a settlement. Instead, they're going to make Māori fight tooth and nail to claim what was theirs all along. Its unjust, and its also a huge waste of public money on lawyers.

But in addition to Māori finally getting justice, a definitive ruling should unblock the policy process over water, and allow us to move to a better regulatory structure. And we will have Māori to thank for it.