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Thomas Cranmer: Tuku Morgan and Three Waters

Without explanation, Waikato-Tainui's Tukoroirangi Morgan has been appointed to lead the northern Three Waters iwi body raising fresh concerns about governance and how conflicts are managed.

When Wayne Brown joined forces with the Mayors of Christchurch, Waimakariri and Manawatu last Monday to put forward an alternative proposal for the country’s water reforms, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, said that she was pleased the mayors saw that the current state of New Zealand's water assets was untenable. She added that she would consider what they had raised and was keen for dialogue to continue.

In the press conference announcing the alternative proposal, the Mayors of Christchurch and Waimakariri had stated that, although they were did not support the current mega-entity model, they were “not opposed to co-governance”. Brown was more equivocal in his statements on the topic, preferring instead to observe that he “supports ideas that will work in practice”.

Within days, a more forthright response to the mayors was made. Speaking at the National Iwi Leaders Chairs Forum in Taupo on Wednesday, Waikato-Tainui chairperson Tukoroirangi Morgan said:

I don't know which world they belong to, this is 2022 Aotearoa New Zealand, this is about partnership … We will never be denied, we will never go silently in the night, our voice must be heard at the table and we must take our place, end of story.

Despite Morgan’s emphatic statement, not all iwi within Auckland were as dismissive of Brown’s proposal. In fact, it was welcomed by Auckland’s Ngāti Whatua Orakei.

“Anything that gives us more voice in issues on our land in central Auckland, we are all for that,” Ngāti Whatua Orakei Trust deputy chair Ngarimu Blair said.

“Three Waters hasn't done that for us. So we are open to these new ideas from the mayors.”

Then over the weekend Morgan issued a statement confirming that he had been appointed chairperson to the entity A iwi regional representative group under the Three Waters reforms.

Entity A covers 45 iwi and hapū groups across Auckland and Northland, as well as four territorial authorities: Far North District Council, Whangarei District Council, Kaipara District Council and Auckland Council. In his statement Morgan said, “we look forward to engaging productively with all four councils within the entity A catchment in the coming months.”

It was unclear who had made the appointment and on what basis it was considered appropriate to appoint the current chairperson of Waikato-Tainui to a regional role outside of his own. It is all the more bizarre when you consider Morgan’s prior role on the working group on representation earlier this year, and his role in the long-running dispute between the Waikato-Tainui and Watercare over increasing Auckland’s water-take from the Waikato River.

Morgan’s appointment to the entity A iwi group appears to be a reprisal of his role on the working group on representation which saw him adopt the most dominant and vocal role amongst the iwi representatives in rebuffing the concerns of some mayors to the co-governance arrangements. Morgan was also the staunchest defender in the room of Te Mana o te Wai statements being available to mana whenua only.

When Minister Mahuta issued a press release in November last year announcing the formation of the working group on representation, she stated that the group was comprised of 20 members, including an independent chairperson, nine elected members of local authorities, nine iwi/Maori representatives, and the chair of the joint Central-Local Government Three Waters Steering Committee.

The statement then named each member of the group save for one. Morgan’s name did not appear on the list. Instead, a placeholder was included for the final appointee which stated “One further representative for Entity A to be confirmed”.

However when the working group issued its final report in March this year, Tuku Morgan was listed as a representative for Entity B. Oddly, Entities A, C and D had two iwi representatives each, and Entity B had three (including Morgan).

To add to the murkiness of Morgan’s role, on the Three Waters website from the Department of Internal Affairs, it simply lists Morgan as an “additional representative”, with each of the four mega-entities having two iwi representatives.

Whatever his actual role on the working group, I understand that Morgan was the loudest voice in the room on co-governance. A voice that became louder and more dominant when the independent chairperson, Doug Martin, was unable to participate for some of the meetings due to a positive Covid test.

Now the Waikato-Tainui chairperson has been parachuted into the role of chair of the entity A iwi regional representative group. What is the point of having regional representative groups if key individuals from outside the area, but who are aligned with the government’s policy views, can be appointed to roles within those groups?

It seems that when Minister Mahuta says that she is keen for dialogue to continue what she really means is that when she wants your opinion, she’ll give it to you. Or she’ll send Tuku to give it to you.

The absurd conflict is made all the more obvious when you consider the long-running dispute between Waikato-Tainui and Watercare over the amount of water Watercare can take from the Waikato River to satisfy the needs of Aucklanders.

In January this year, a Board of Inquiry granted Watercare resource consent to withdraw 150 million more litres a day for the Auckland supply. As a result, Watercare is now allowed to take 300 million litres of water a day from the Waikato River each year, with an operational consent for the next 20 years.

A key player in the Board of Inquiry review was Waikato River Authority chairperson, Tipa Mahuta. In her statement of evidence to the Board, Mahuta noted the roles that her late father and mother had in the historic Waitangi Tribunal claim to the Waikato River and highlighted that the Treaty settlement was “signed by Tukoroirangi Morgan and my mother. That was a hugely significant day for all of the people of Waikato-Tainui”.

In her statement, Mahuta set out her evidence for opposing Watercare’s application. The first issue raised by her was “the lack of respect and any meaningful engagement with the WRA (Waikato River Authority)”.

When the Board of Inquiry granted Watercare its consent in January, Waikato-Tainui chairperson Linda Te Aho announced that they would appeal the decision, saying the iwi was still concerned it undermined the river and those who live along it.

“We remain concerned with the undermining effect on te mana o te awa and the mana whakahaere of Waikato-Tainui and our hapū and marae along the river,” she said in a statement.

Morgan replaced Te Aho as chairperson of Waikato-Tainui in April this year. The legal dispute was only settled in August but Morgan specifically referred to the on-going tension between Auckland and Tainui over the issue in his statement on the weekend as reported by Stuff. He warned that Auckland taking more and more water from the Waikato River was not sustainable:

While it is easy and convenient for Auckland Council and Watercare to keep increasing the water take from our awa tupuna to supply water to Taamaki Makaurau, it is not sustainable.

The appointment of Morgan to the chair of the entity A iwi regional representative group only serves to highlight how needlessly politicised these reforms have become. Opaque tribal politics is inextricably at the heart of Three Waters.

More than anything else, this appointment confirms that these reforms represent the Tainui-model of Three Waters.

Thomas Cranmer is a pseudonym. You can read his columns here.

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