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PETER WILLIAMS: Campaign update on co-governance of water

The following is written by Peter Williams as board member for the Taxpayers' Union:

Jordan has given me a full update on our efforts to knock undemocratic co-governance on the head once and for all.

While the new Government is taking a tougher line on these issues than the last one, so far they're just not delivering. National, in particular, is still reluctant to walk the walk.

Tackling this challenging issue head on is exactly what New Zealanders elected them to do. 

A quick recap 

  • It is becoming clear the new Government is continuing down Labour's path of undemocratic and costly co-governance due to pressure from the bureaucracy who are using incorrect or misinterpreted legal advice to force co-governance on our democracy.

  • The Government looked set to keep co-governance of fresh water: rivers, lakes, and rules for agricultural runoff will be subject to 'te Mana o te Wai' (literally meaning the mana of the water). There has been some progress in this area (see further down this message) but it's a halfway solution.

  • We understand that the reason the new Government has not repealed David Parker’s unworkable freshwater National Policy Statement is because ministers have been advised that changing the race-based (and impossibly high) water standards cannot be done without iwi consent.

  • Under David Parker's National Policy Statement on Freshwater, local council plans must allow tangata whenua to be "actively involved in decision-making processes relating to Māori freshwater values" as defined by relevant tangata whenua. Regional councils must also "work with tangata whenua to investigate the use of mechanisms ... such as transfers or delegations of power [and] joint management agreements." 

  • The social and economic well-being of communities who collect and use the water must come second to whatever a local iwi says upholds Te Mana o Te Wai.

  • All roads lead back to the infamous Three Waters advice which the public has still not seen. 

What the Taxpayers' Union has been doing on your behalf

Jordan wrote to Attorney-General, Judith Collins, urging her to waive privilege and release the legal advice given to Nanaia Mahuta that apparently says that Three Waters-style co-governance is required under the Treaty. If we can slay that dragon, it becomes very difficult to justify the continued existence of any other form of undemocratic co-governance. 

Why is Judith Collins protecting Nanaia Mahuta? Govt. is still refusing to release the advice to prove (or disprove) claims relied upon to justify co-governance of water

I'm sad to report that Minister Collins refused to release the information, instead doubling down that the public interest in releasing the advice does not outweigh other factors.

Really?! If knowing whether the politician's claims that Māori "own" the water are true or not isn't in the public interest, what on earth is?

Addressing the second point in Jordan's earlier letter, she says "The Crown has long acknowledged that Māori have rights and interests in freshwater". That's a little cute. As we've said all along, some iwi may have some rights over specific water bodies (the law, and Waitangi settlements have long acknowledged this), but the open question is the radical interpretation taken by Mahuta (and now Chris Hipkins) that Māori in general have an overall interest or rights to govern all water over and above that of all other New Zealanders.

Meanwhile, Councils are still spending ratepayer money paying iwi to figure out the local "te mana o te wai" (the mana of the water) as it applies to each district

There is a second piece of work the team at the Taxpayers' Union are tackling that is separate to the Three Waters legal advice, but related.

You see, it appears exactly the same assertions about co-governing water are still polluting local environmental / water regulation. And rather than pulling it, the new Government are just watering it down a bit.

As you'll see, we're pushing back on accusations that my earlier email on Te Mana o Te Wai had factual inaccuracies and have challenged the Nats to explain what we've apparently got wrong...

We've asked him why the Government hasn't repealed David Parker's National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management while a replacement is created by the new Government – instead we are being left with co-governance by stealth. 

One step forward, two steps back on Te Mana o Te Wai

A small amount of progress has been made in relation to the hierarchy of obligations that places Te Mana o Te Wai above the well-being of the communities that use water. This hierarchy has been suspended for the purpose of resource consents that are currently being considered. But it has become clear that it's not enough. Until a full repeal of David Parker's entire National Policy Statement, regional councils are still legally obliged to continue formulating new water and environmental planning documents that put (you guessed it!) Te Mana o Te Wai at the very top of the hierarchy!

Some local councils, against the wishes of the communities they are supposed to represent, have become captured by the very same undemocratic view on ‘Treaty principles’, and so-called ‘partnership obligations’ that were all too prevalent under the previous Government (and increasingly so under this one). 

You don't need to look much further than the Mayors, backed by LGNZ, who signed a letter begging the Government not to give local communities the right to demand a referendum on the introduction of Māori Wards. 

Time and time again we see councils ramming through ideological changes, against community wishes, and at significant cost. 

The significant cost to ratepayers

So despite these obligations being paused, councils continue to spend millions of ratepayer dollars on working with iwi to determine how to implement and uphold Te Mana o Te Wai so the work will be all ready to go whenever there is a change of government. Or worse still, may decide to impose Te Mana o Te Wai requirements themselves, even though it's not required, nor supported by the local community. 

The research team sent each of the Regional Councils a freedom of information request asking how much it is costing councils to consult on and develop plans on what Te Mana o te Wai actually means and how to uphold it.

Unsurprisingly, most councils were unwilling to come forward with concrete figures, but the reasoning why was even more disturbing.

They claim that Te Mana o Te Wai is so intertwined and deeply embedded in all council policy relating to freshwater that it is impossible to separate out the costs.

See these examples from two councils for yourself:

Environment Southland Regional Council.

The proposed Southland Water and Land Plan "embodies ki uta ki tai and upholds Te Mana o Te Wai, and they are both at the forefront of all discussions and decisions about water and land... The implementation and upholding of Te Mana o Te Wai should be intricately embedded into all water and land-related policy and implementation work in Southland."

Waikato Regional Council.

"[Waikato Regional Council] has also formed a technical working group Ngā Tira Mātauranga (NTM) which comprises of nominated representatives from tangata whenua entities within the Waikato Region who wish to have increased involvement and engagement with the project. The purpose, scope, work programme, and terms of reference for the group were developed by incorporating recommendations from tangata whenua representatives as to how the group should function."

When pressed further, the details of the costs that they were willing to reveal were staggering. Taranaki Regional Council is spending $250,000 per year on consulting with iwi on freshwater policy while Bay of Plenty Regional Council has spent more than $700,000 since mid 2021. 

Millions of ratepayer dollars are being spent on work that will see the 'mana of the water' put above the needs of you and your community and will give local iwi and hapu an almost unlimited scope to determine how water can and can't be used. I thought it was this sort of undemocratic madness we elected Christopher Luxon to rid us of.

And let's not forget the exorbitant costs that any new and unworkable rules and regulations imposed by Te Mana o te Wai will place on people who use water – like farmers and employers. We are already hearing of instances of iwi refusing to give a cultural impact report on resource use unless an extortionate sum of money is paid.

This cannot go on.

Keeping on, keeping at it

As you can see, despite the coalition parties, the coalition agreements, and the very clear election mandate, unless we keep at them, this issue of equal democratic accountability and the dangerous path of co-governance isn't going to be fixed.

I hope you agree that the Taxpayers' Union has established itself as a real watchdog in this area. But they can't save New Zealand if they can't keep the lights on.

Peter Williams is a broadcaster and board member of the Taxpayers' Union. You can support the Taxpayers' Union to uncover, publicise and advocate against waste here

3,299 views107 comments


Thank you Mr Luxon for abolishing the 3 Waters program and increasing my council rates to cover the shortfall of funds.


John Key signed New Zealand up to UNDRIP.

Did you really believe Luxon would unsign.

The indigenous are Moriori and Waitaha.


They, along with other iwi, are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand


A belated but relevant comment from Douglas Murray.....



Frank Bennett
Frank Bennett

All I can say is "WTF", very loudly. National have truly become "The Labour Lite Party", light on policy making (lets just run the labour policy), light on decision making (especially decisive decision making), light on original thought (or no thoughts at all), simply because we must not upset one particular group. National! get on with making decisions that benefit all New Zealanders. Decisions that will put this country on a growth path. Stop handing money out for which there is no accountability in place.


So True !!!! And they are as WEAK AS HELL!!! And LACK LUSTER LUXON Is the main cause. The only way forward is to Demote him to a position we’re he can’t stumble and fall. Every five minutes AND LET Winston and David get on with what was promised NO MORE YES WE WILL AND NO WE WONT 🐂💩💩. Ie ( The Cancer drugs plus others ) Why does the majority. Of NEW ZEALAND Have to hand over $$$ to a small group of Fat & Lazy black arse Māoris.??? What do we get in RETURN ?.? Nothing that can be. seen or heard of


James G Cooke
James G Cooke

Oh, so maori own an asset that at times causes damage to property belonging to others. As said owners of the asset they failed to control; then liability for flood damage must be on them as the owner.

Problem solved. 😉

On to the next one... the National party. I call on any members or supporters of the party to protest by withholding payment of membership subs, donations, and volunteering until the party backs ACT to the hilt in defining the principles of the treaty.

And while on the subject of defining words, how about a legal definition of "indigenous" that refers to original inhabitants (Moriori) and not those that came later to enslave or eat them.


Maori dont own the water, only have certain rigbts over it.

As far as which iwi are the indigenous people of NZ, it would be any of the ones listed by harveyandsara as well as any iwi present in New Zealand prior to the arrival of British. I am sure this definition has been established and incorporated into kegislation, so that would have to be rescinded if you wanted to change the definition.

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