Chris Hipkins faces challenge of correcting co-governance narrative over Three Waters

The Prime Minister has been issued a major challenge not to throw Māori under the bus, with iwi leaders urging him not to succumb to what they say are National and ACT's racism.

There are also calls to drop the label co-governance because it's become too misunderstood.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on Friday headed out on the water on a waka. Slathering on sunscreen, there was no chance of a little sunburn getting in the way of a paddle.

"Us gingers have got to know our limitations," he said.

Hipkins is also trying to dig the Government out of its co-governance mess.

It was an idea introduced to our everyday language with the Three Waters legislation and it meant sharing the management of water assets between Māori and the Crown. But it's now accepted that that message failed.

"Because we've been doing so many different things, actually, we probably haven't created the space to make sure people understand what we're doing and why we're doing it," Hipkins said. "That is absolutely I think a lesson for us over the last five years."

Jamie Tuuta, the Pou Tahua chairperson, National Iwi Chairs Forum, said the issue of co-governance is a "really positive thing that shouldn't be feared".

Hipkins met with iwi leaders at Waitangi and they issued an almighty challenge.

"There is a need to understand and address racism in this country and over recent times it's got a lot more urgent," said Margaret Mutu, the chairperson of Iwi Chairs Forum Pou Tikanga.

"There is a level of frustration among iwi that again iwi and Māori are being used as a political platform," said Tuuta.

Waikato-Tainui chairperson Tukoroirangi Morgan asked: "Will he succumb to the attack dogs of the National Party and ACT as they fan the flames of racism and anti-Māori sentiments and throw us under the bus?"

And what is fanning those flames of racism is the muddied waters of co-governance.

"It's something that shouldn't be feared, it's a very inclusive process," said Tuuta.

Hipkins said: "I think the Opposition - National and ACT - have used, as they have done in the past, they have used uncertainty to try and stoke fear."

"I really hoped we'd see a more constructive approach from the new Prime Minister explaining what he thinks co-governence is rather than attacking National and ACT," said ACT leader David Seymour.

Ben Thomas was the spin doctor for National's Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson when they started using the mechanism of co-governance in Treaty settlements, like the Waikato River.

"I looked at it and wondered whether people would get confused and think this is about government - and probably should have spent a bit more time at the whiteboard," he said.

Hipkins said he loves the phrase "mahi tahi", meaning "working together".

"Ultimately, that's what it is about. It is about the Crown working with Māori to advance our common interest."

The Government lost control of the co-governance narrative over Three Waters and allowed it to become a monster many Kiwis fear.

The Prime Minister now has the challenge of correcting the course of the waka, while keeping Māori on side and not letting them become a political football.