'Locked Maori out': Waitangi Tribunal finds Māori freshwater rights must be better recognised

Recommendations by the Waitangi Tribunal around Māori rights concerning fresh water are being taken as a win by the Māori Council.

The report found that Māori water rights must be better recognised by the Government and that Māori should have rights to a percentage of water allocations.

It also found fault with the Resource Management Act (RMA), saying planning regulations have "allowed serious degradation of water quality to occur" and that its Treaty section is "weak".

"Let's be really clear - there has been a clear disconnect between how Government (the Crown) has been developing their legislative frameworks and guidelines, and the te ao Māori system around Iwi and Hapu plans both present and future," says Matthew Tukaki, the council's executive director.

Tukaki highlighted the fact that the RMA had a proviso to protect the rights of farmers but had nothing for those of Māori.

"The first-in-first-served system was also unfair to our people especially in catchments that had become full or over allocated. This system had essentially locked Māori out. Not only did this impact our proprietary rights it also impacted our economic development opportunities."

Tukaki says that reform of the RMA is "critical" to protecting freshwater rights for Māori.

Despite agreement that the role of Māori in freshwater management and decision-making needs to be enhanced, there was no agreement on how this should happen.

The Tribunal also pointed out that very few of its recommendations from other reports had been acted on by Government and it was possible this could go the same way.

But Environment Minister David Parker says the Government does take the Tribunal seriously.

"We don't always agree with everything they propose. They are not the Government but we do take their recommendations seriously," says Parker.

Tukaki urged the Government to "be bold and join with us in shared ownership of the recommendations."