Dr Carwyn Jones: “The model of shared decision-making proposed in the new water reforms is still well short of recognising the relationship that’s envisaged in Te Tiriti.” — Dr Carwyn Jones. (Photo supplied)

The government’s revision of its Three Waters reforms will see 10 public water entities created instead of the four previously proposed. They’ll be owned by local councils and run by a “professional board” appointed by a Regional Representative Group. Each group must include an equal number of local authority and mana whenua members.

Here’s Carwyn Jones talking to Connie Buchanan about whether that’s enough to live up to the promises of Te Tiriti.


The power-sharing arrangements with mana whenua that are in the latest round of water reforms haven’t really changed from the original model.

We’re still seeing 50-50 decision-making between mana whenua and local authorities at the regional representative group level.

That’s encouraging in many ways, especially given the political opposition that’s been whipped up against any form of sharing authority with Māori.

It’s also encouraging to see the Minister of Local Government, Kieran McAnulty, saying that the reason for retaining these arrangements is our Te Tiriti obligations which we must recognise and give effect to.

But rather than just talking about power-sharing as compliance with our obligations, I think we should be talking about how it creates a real opportunity to get better solutions for the crises we face.

All the evidence that we have about Māori participation in public decision-making suggests that Māori thinking about relationships, communities, and intergenerational responsibility benefits everyone.

Placing importance on whanaungatanga, on ideas about balance and reciprocity, on understanding the interconnectedness of people with the natural environment as literal kin relationships, brings such a valuable perspective to decisions.

That’s applying a Māori philosophy or worldview in quite a general sense.

Then, in a local context, mana whenua have long-standing knowledge of the natural environment in their area, and long-standing experience of how to manage interactions between people and the environment in that particular location and particular context.

Mana whenua, after all, exercised local and environmental governance for many centuries before the current systems were imposed.

So, through sharing decision-making, we get an important philosophical approach that underpins how we might respond to an issue — and, in a local context, we get access to extensive practical knowledge as well.

These things will contribute to better-informed and more durable decisions, which will strengthen the legitimacy of these public institutions.

That’s the opportunity, as well as the obligation, of sharing power.

We also need to draw on different worldviews, and think creatively about decision-making, if we’re going to achieve the radical change that will shift how we’re responding to urgent issues like climate change.

The current water reforms aren’t mainly about the natural environment — they’re about infrastructure and systems. But these things are connected. Stormwater, for example, is about managing issues relating to the impacts of climate change. It’s clear that relying on the systems and philosophies that have created the problems of climate change is not now going to provide the best way to address those challenges.

But I think there’s a persistent idea out there that Māori won’t want to make decisions that are also good for other New Zealanders. There’s a perception that mana whenua will act almost as private entities do, like businesses or companies, and act primarily in their own self-interest.

Whereas, mana whenua and iwi are, in fact, public entities in the same kinds of ways that local authorities are — albeit with a different constituency or membership base. They provide a public institutional perspective in the same way that local authorities do.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the model of shared decision-making proposed in the new water reforms is still well short of recognising the relationship that’s envisaged in Te Tiriti.

Properly giving effect to Te Tiriti relationships would require that shared decision-making is expressed through all levels of the organisation.

In the case of the proposed water services entities, this would mean decision-making ought to be shared with mana whenua not only within the Regional Representative Group but also at the governing board level.

The prime minister, when he was talking about the board, said it would be made up of “professional” appointments.

I would’ve thought that the skills and expertise they’d want on the governance board would also include perspectives from mana whenua who have particular relationships with the rohe concerned, and with the waters in those rohe — and who have that experience of living in relationship with the waterways.

All of which gives them real, practical, effective skills to make better decisions at the very top level. So, it would be good to see that kind of experience recognised as “professional” expertise.

Then, in operational matters too, we should be thinking about Māori participation and input.

So it’s disappointing to see the co-governance “issue” being politically managed by limiting power-sharing arrangements to one part of the reform structure.

Māori have rights and interests in their lands, in their waters, and in what goes on within their rohe. Te Tiriti creates an obligation for Māori and the Crown to acknowledge each other’s authority in these and various other spheres.

Ultimately, of course, that requires hammering out the constitutional relationship between tino rangatiratanga and kāwanatanga. That’s what the Matike Mai Aotearoa report discusses. That’s what He Puapua was starting to put into action as part of our commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the National Government signed us up to in 2010.

It’s also disappointing to see the government now stepping back from He Puapua, quite clearly as a result of concern about the politics of how it’s perceived — when those conversations can be, and already have been at the working-group level, based on a really positive vision for a shared future.

Maria Bargh and I have also just completed a report where we look at a whole lot of case studies of Māori-led, or Te Tiriti-led, approaches to environmental governance. They’re projects that are having real benefits, in practical terms, for good environmental management.

Just to give one example, as part of their Treaty settlement, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei were returned the lands now called Whenua Rangatira (located between Ōkāhu and Mission Bays) and the Pourewa Creek Recreation Reserve (located in the Tāmaki Basin).

These reserves, part of the original 700-acre Ōrākei papakāinga, are now managed by the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Reserves Board, a co-governance entity between the iwi and Auckland Council.

The Reserves Board aims to manage the land for the benefit of the hapū and the people of Auckland. Reserve management is funded from commercial income and Auckland Council.

Pourewa, which for many years was used for a pony club, is now part of a “Living Laboratory” project in conjunction with Auckland University of Technology and Farming & Nature Conservation. This co-designed project aims to restore native bush, sequester carbon, and foster learning about how native forest regeneration occurs.

Examples like this show that it’s possible to rely on Māori leadership to create a flourishing and abundant taiao that sustains and nurtures all people of Aotearoa. It’s really inspiring to see this kind of work happening in communities, and the steps that people are already taking.

In the context of water reforms, it would be great to see the government talking about these sorts of examples and being much more positive about the benefits and opportunities of shared decision-making.

We’re so fortunate in Aotearoa to have Te Tiriti as a framework in which we can have conversations about sharing power, about bringing in different approaches, about accessing each other’s philosophies and knowledge.

We should be grateful to our tūpuna for that. We should be making as much use of it as possible to address the issues that we’re facing, not looking for ways to water it down. 


Dr Carwyn Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) is Pūkenga Matua (Lead Academic) of Ahunga Tikanga (Māori Laws and Philosophy) at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, and Honorary Adjunct Professor, Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies) at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington.

As told to Connie Buchanan and made possible by the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

© E-Tangata, 2023

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