Patrick Gower: So let's talk about water. It underpins our economy... our recreation... it's what we drink. But who gets to control it? And could we all end up paying, with Maori wanting a cut?
Tova O'Brien: For eight years now iwi and government have been negotiating over who has rights to the freshwater in our lakes and rivers. The debate's even been to the Supreme Court.
Patrick Gower: What everyone agrees is that Maori have "rights and interests" in water. But what that means is being hammered out behind closed doors... with a deadline for a deal of Waitangi Day next year.
Tova O'Brien: Mark Solomon is the kaiwhakahaere of Ngai Tahu and co-chair of the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group. So when Paddy spoke him, he asked where negotiations are up to as of now.
Mark Solomon: We're at the level of where we're working with the government to set a framework of how the rights and interests of iwi can be settled around water.
Patrick Gower: And how far has that got?
So a lot of the work that we've been involved in is working with the government over the minimum-flow regimes for all river systems in the country, looking at water quality. We believe that if you set those standards, that you're a good way down the path of protecting the river systems of New Zealand.
Sure. You think that rivers are dying, do you?
I know that we have a couple of our hapua, our lakes, that are fed by rivers in the south that are almost on the flip period from where they go eutrophic. All life in it is dead. We know that a number of the rivers in Te Waipounamu are very much over-allocated and that your fish species, your tuna, within the lakes are— from the river systems are struggling.
So what do you think of the Government's plans for the standard to be wadeable? That's the standard that the Government—
Don't agree with it at all.
…that you can wade in the water.
Don't agree with it in any shape, nor form. In the first meeting that we had when it was raised by Minister Amy Adams, I just made a statement, 'Come on, Minister. When a child goes down to the river, they don't stop and say, "Is this river wadeable or swimmable?" They jump. So surely at a minimum, the river system should become swimmable.'
When I took that concept out to iwi katoa, I got put in my place. 'No, Mark, your higher standard is that all rivers become drinkable. That should be the aspiration under the RMA, that over time all our rivers are brought back to drinkable.'
You think that you can convince the Government that that should be the standard, that rivers in New Zealand should be drinkable?
No. No, of course not. At this stage, the Government is still pushing this wadeable, but what wadeable means if you can take your shoes and socks off and put your feet in but you can't put your head under, because you'll get ill. That as a standard to iwi katoa is absolutely ridiculous.
Okay, so how do we get there? And the important part of this, I guess, is the rights and interests. The courts have agreed that iwi have rights and interests in water.
The Government agrees that iwi have rights and interests in water.
But we don't know how those rights and interests are defined…
…so how do you define them?
Well, first of all, I'd say what the rights and interests give us is a right to have an input into the governance, the management and the monitoring of the river systems of New Zealand. And one of the things that iwi katoa are consistently asking for is we want to be able to exercise our kaitiakitanga when it comes to our waterways. We want access to water for our maraes, we want access to water for our communities, and we want access to water in an equitable manner so that we can bring our lands into the economy of New Zealand.
Okay, well, let's take a river down in Ngai Tahu, the Waimakariri.
Ngai Tahu has farms along that river using that water.
That river is one that a lot of people say is over-allocated, so shouldn't you guys pull out of there?
No, because it's not over-allocated at this stage.
If it does get over-allocated, what happens then?
Then I would say that, 'Ngai Tahu, you have to surrender your water rights.' You can't talk about kaitiakitanga and then deny it if it's going into issue. And when—
Yeah, so you're talking about surrendering rights. Does that mean that Pakeha farmers, all farmers would have to—?
All New Zealanders. As the Government says, no one owns the water. It is the use there for all New Zealanders. If you've got the rights of use, then you have the responsibility of protecting the system. If we're getting into a river that is being over-allocated and the river is starting to die, I would argue that you have to withdraw some of those consents. Bring the river back.
Okay, we're talking a lot about allocation here. You're talking about people who have allocations surrendering water, essentially, if the river gets oversubscribed.
Yeah. Let me qualify that.
I'm saying that Ngai Tahu would have to.
Yes, and both—
And by extension, I'd say all New Zealanders have to.
Yeah, so farmers would have to surrender water rights.
But let's look at allocation in general, because at the moment farmers can get a consent for water.
Power companies can get a consent to use water.
Water-bottling companies can get a consent to use water.
They all get it for free once they use that, but you want a system where water is allocated and, I guess, as part of that, iwi get a permanent allocation. Is that right?
We're saying that we want a right to access – equitable access – for water for our lands. Yes, we are.
So that would mean you get a permanent right to use water?
Again, I would argue under the ethos of kaitiakitanga, nothing is permanent. If the river goes in decline, you have to surrender.
Because what we're talking about here is an ability to trade water in some senses, aren't we? What's your view on that?
At a personal level, I've got serious concerns about a tradability of water. I look at it like the quota management system. We're now 25, 30 years past the introduction of the quota management system. Around 80 percent of the all the deep-water quotas of New Zealand are now owned by three companies. Why is water going to be different if it's fully tradable?
So you would fear that if there is—?
I have a fear about it. I don't believe that Ngai Tahu should get a right to access to water and then flick it down the line.
Right, and do other iwi agree with that?
Some. Some don't.
Because there is a concern among Pakeha that this will all lead to a price being put on water, this will lead to Maori making money off water or farmers having to pay for water. Can you assuage those concerns?
Yes, I can. Last year we did around 60 consultation hui across the country. One of the questions we put at each hui – is this an issue of money? Is this about cash payout? The answer from every hui, 'Absolutely not. It's got nothing to do with a cash payout on water.'
So at the end of this process, if you get a deal with Government, people will not have to pay to use water, farmers will not have to pay to irrigate their farms, water-bottling companies will still get it for free?
That is certainly not what we're asking for it to be paid for like that. It's not our stance at all. That's been the Government's talk. What we're after is protect the river systems, protect the in-stream flows, protect the water quality and an equitable share of available water for us to bring our lands into the economy of the country. It is not iwi that are out there talking about a tradable property right. It is not iwi out there that are talking about putting a price on water. That's coming from others.
But you made a presentation this week that we've seen where you talked about an economic return to Maori from water.
No, what I said is that Maori want to be able to have an equitable share of water so that we can bring our lands into the economy of the country. And the reason I said that, Maori whanau outside of the tribal ownership collectively own about $1.7 billion worth of lands across this nation, of which only 30 percent is productive. 70 percent is growing weeds. We're saying here's a huge asset to the nation, that if we had access to water, we could bring it into the economy. That's different to saying that we want a tradable price on water.
The other question around this is ownership.
Is this allocation a form of ownership?
How is it not?
Why is it if Maori get an allocation of water is that any different to a Pakeha farmer getting an allocation to water? It's a use right. It's about a right to irrigate your land for the purpose of farming. We're asking for the same right. We're not asking for a permanent ownership, but we are asking for a permanent input into the governance, the management, the monitoring of the water system.
Okay, well, let's pick up on that permanent input, because at the moment, that's controlled by regional councils.
So how would your permanent input over rivers work? Would you sit alongside councils?
Would there be an iwi—?
Yes, in a relationship with the council. I mean, if you look at water as an example, water comes under 13 different statutes and 20 different government agencies deal with it. Each one of them has a different reporting mechanism, a different way of dealing with things. Part of what we would like to see if the government rationalise all this into a single organisation and a single framework for water.
But will we have iwi or hapu on those— around individual rivers or individual catchments or individual lakes, sitting alongside regional council making decisions on how the water from that is used?
Well, yes, it is, and part of what we've been saying to the Government, 'Can you work with us?' and the territorial authorities to put in place a process so that we are at the table, we are having an input into the management. At the moment, it's all hit and miss.
So how would that work? Would you sit with the council? Would you have powers?
You'd sit alongside councillors?
In the decision-making bodies around water, yes.
So if, for instance, a river is over-allocated, you would sit in alongside the council? You would help them make decisions on who using that river has to surrender some of that allocation?
Yes, including ourselves if we had a right there.
And including farmers or what have you?
All. All water users.
All water users.
The rivers, as the government says, no one owns the water. The rivers and the waters of the nation are for the use of all.
But this would give iwi—
No, they're for the use of all.
But this would give iwi some control.
If they're for the use of all, then the responsibility of protecting the river systems and ensuring that the river systems survive is the responsibility of all.
Okay, and on that kind of model, iwi would be able to say, 'This river has been overused. You've got to cut back,' be it a power company, be it a farmer…
No, come on, Patrick.
…be it Ngai Tahu?
It won't be the iwi saying that this river—
Iwi and council?
Yes, it will be all.
But would we see that in other councils? Appointed iwi representatives sitting alongside elected councillors, making decisions on how a waterway is used? Because that's what it's sounding like here.
It is. We want input into the governance, management of water.
I'm unequivocal on that. How it happens and how quick it happens all depends on the different communities. As you know, we had movement in Te Arawa.
But we had the exact opposite in New Plymouth.
Yes, and my point to you is this – it would be appointed iwi representatives. They wouldn't be elected, and we've seen how communities, like in New Plymouth, react to the thought of appointed iwi representatives. The upshot is Pakeha New Zealand don't like it.
Well, the upshot from our side – I'll use the foreshore-seabed as an example – why Pakeha mightn't like it, so what the Court of Appeal came out and said that Maori do have rights and interests into the foreshore-seabed.
The response from the Labour Government was, 'Well, we're telling you, you don't, and we will not allow you to take the case to court until first we change the way the court works. And by the way, the court can't rule against us.'
So that was their response. What was the response of the National Party in the 2005 election? What National run was the National campaign is, 'Kiwi, not iwi. Let's get rid of all the Maori seats.'
But we might see—
No, no, is that fair representation?
Is that fair representation when a government – two governments – came out with a stance like that? So if everything's hunky-dory and it's all democratic and everyone will look after everyone's interests, they sure as hell didn't do it for Maori.
Are you afraid, though, that that will happen again with this if you ask for representatives to go alongside council?
I think that there is a changing attitude across the country that's permeating through the nation at the moment. Not every area is like that, and some are quite adamant that they don't want any input from Maori, but we're not going away. We're here. We'll keep pushing the issue.
And on that, something like this, it will be controversial.
Of course it will.
Everything we do is controversial.
Permanent iwi representation alongside councils, making decisions about water, that will be controversial. Can you get this past a National government?
Already in the legislation, there is clauses where councils have to work with iwi. Under the first proposals that come out under Minister Amy Adams, there was to be a beefing up of that. It's an evolving field.
Now, on some other issues.
State housing – you know, the Government did hope that iwi would buy these, but Haami Piripi, one of your colleagues, said on this programme iwi's opening bid for state houses was that the market price for them was zero. Does that still stand?
I do know that some of the state houses have not been maintained well. They're not insulated. And I think some of them would be an economic millstone around your neck if you bought them. But we will do a full due diligence on what is on offer, and if it stacks up and if our people wish to go into it, maybe.
An economic millstone around your neck – why would you do it?
Well, that's what I'm saying. Would we go and buy a house that's had no maintenance done on it for 20-odd years, has got no insulation? No, we don't want it. But if we could have a look at the whole what they're putting, there are some, potentially, yes.
Because what we're also seeing is Bill English talking about Australian, even English companies…
…coming in and buying these state houses. Do you agree with that? Are you okay with that as tangata whenua?
The issue of foreign ownership is a pretty vexed question in this country. Personally, I think it comes down to an issue of the policy of this country. You have all of this anti talk out there about all these foreigners that are coming in and buying up our housing, but I have to ask myself the question, well, who sells it to them? Oh, New Zealanders do. They sell it to the foreign owners, and then they moan that they've bought it. You know, you can't have it both ways. If there is an issue about foreign ownership, then change the policy. Change the policy. If I go to China, can I buy land? No.
So should we? Should we change the policy?
I think we should. In fact, I suggested to the Prime Minister in Kaikoura at a hui is that, 'Why don't you look at a model like China? I can go there and buy a house, but I can never go there and buy land. In China, they don't have a right of occupation for 35 or 70 years. Why don't you do that with foreigners if there's this big concern about foreign owners coming in and buying land in our country?'
And on first right of refusal, very quickly, do you back Ngati Whatua on that? And what does it say about Government-iwi relations when Nick Smith has effectively been trying to sneak first right of refusal, you know, past the goalkeeper, so to speak?
If you look at the apologies that come with most settlements, nearly all of the apologies have a little clause at end, 'We will now enter into a new age of cooperation.' I think the way that the Minister handled it is completely contrary to that statement. I think one of the blocks, he'd already been to Ngati Whatua. The rest he didn't bother to. I do not see what the issue would have been in speaking to Ngati Whatua.
Sure. Now moving on to one other issue – the kereru. Your counterpart from up north, Sonny Tau, took the kereru from Ngai Tahu territory. Did he have the right to do that?
No. No one does.
So what's happened? Have you talked to him?
Yes. The message from Ngai Tahu is the kereru is an endangered species in our area. Yes, at some time in the future when stocks build, we would like to exercise a customary take, but unless those stocks build to a sustainable level, leave them alone.
Did he apologise?
All right, thank you very much, Sir Mark Solomon.
A pleasure. Thanks, Patrick.
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