Pure sparkling fresh water – turn on the tap and there it is. It’s our God given right, the lifeblood, the new oil it seems, even here in New Zealand.
But who owns the water, and are the government about to surrender control of the nation’s fresh water to Maori?
David Round of the New Zealand Centre for Political Research. Photo: Supplied.
The New Zealand Centre for Political Research would have us believe that’s the case. It has advertised in the nation’s newspapers saying iwi leaders issued an ultimatum to government to hand over water to Maori tribes within a year.
“And believe it or not, the government is complying,” says the ad.
“That is extreme and pretty silly,” says MP for Tauranga and Minister of Energy and Resources Simon Bridges.
The NZCPR is led by former Act MP, Dr Muriel Newman.
“She and her friends made similar claims at the time of the foreshore and seabed,” says Simon. “They got a lot of people worked up then, and they have been proved wrong.
“This is just more scare-mongering – another stunt.”
But David Round of the NZCPR says we should be concerned, very concerned.
“Maori, who at other times go on about how no-one can own the water, would accept privatisation if they knew the private hands into which it was going to fall, were theirs.”
David says the government has been working with the iwi – ‘not in secret, but covertly’ – on how to ‘sneak iwi water control clauses into complex fresh water management plans’ through regional councils.
So are Maori claiming ownership?
“No, that’ll never happen,” says Simon. “We have made it very clear no-one owns the water, there are no shares in this resource.”
But he says there are issues with water that have to be sorted – environmental issues such as rules on fencing stock and keeping dairy cows out of our waterways.
The government intends to publish a discussion paper on the future of water next year so iwi, farmers, power companies, concerned citizens, irrigators, and recreational users can see exactly where the government is going.
But David insists Maori will want water for themselves. “If they are involved in managing water, they will make decisions that are going to favour them,” he says.
“If it involves granting water rights to other people, it will involve Maori clipping the ticket.
“Pardon my cynicism, but it seems to be a very real possibility.”
Tamati Kruger of Ngai Tuhoe believes the debate over ownership of the nation’s water is unhelpful to humanity and the environment.
“It should be about quality and sustainability. It’s everyone’s responsibility,” he says. But he admits there are issues that need addressing.
“Somehow the crown has laid claim to ownership of water and we need to know how that happened? Also the crown has given its subsidiaries, councils all over New Zealand, the right to meter and sell water. How did they get that mandate?”
Tamati also says a lot of people get a lot of water and don’t pay for it, like farmers.
David says at present, water is not owned by anyone and is administered by democratically-elected councils responsible to the public and administered for the public benefit.
“But what is being proposed here, inevitably, is that Maori are going to have a greater share in the administration of water than their population and interests entitles them to.”
Simon is sure the NZCPR believes what it says. “They just happen to be wrong,” he says.
And just like his neighbours, he too wants to visit lakes and rivers whenever he chooses. “And not pay iwi for the right to do so. We just wouldn’t get involved in that silly sort of stuff.”