Tuesday, 10 September 2019 11:55

Water ownership debate gets new push

Written by  Jill Galloway
Environment Minister David Parker. Environment Minister David Parker.

A Waitangi Tribunal report and recommendations on water ownership have put Māori rights and interests in freshwater firmly back in the public spotlight, just as the Government releases a raft of policy changes.

Irrigation New Zealand (INZ) says we need a commission on freshwater use to look at present and future use of the resource.

INZ chief executive Elizabeth Soal says NZ needs a commission with an overarching concept of how water should be used.

“While we broadly support the Waitangi Commission’s finding, we believe present and future use of water needs to be looked at closely,” said Soal. 

As well as looking at farmer use, the commission must also consider community use -- water for towns and cities.

“NZ has so much political advantage from its water use, and while any ownership change or a commission would be a fundamental change, all affected parties need to take a part in any discussion.”

She says big changes are coming, notably climate change, and these need to be taken into account.

“We need to ensure there is a non-politicised take on water, for everybody’s good.”

Meanwhile, the National Party opposes the proposal for Maori to be given ownership interest in freshwater as proposed by the Waitangi Tribunal report.

“National has consistently said no one owns freshwater,” said the party’s Crown-Maori relations spokesman Nick Smith.

“We urge the Government to reject the more radical recommendations of this report. The Government is creating uncertainty and confusion by not clearly ruling out Maori having an ownership interest in freshwater.” Smith says NZ is richly blessed with huge freshwater resources with only 2% extracted for use.

“A debate over the ownership is an unhelpful distraction from the important work to improve freshwater management to achieve better water quality and further economic opportunities.”

The Government announced, late last week, what it plans to do with fresh and thermal water, but a recommendation from the Waitangi Tribunal says the Crown should acknowledge Maori rights and ownership of freshwater.

But Environment Minister David Parker told Radio New Zealand he was happy to acknowledge there were Maori rights and interests in water. 

“I don’t know that it really takes you any further towards a solution to say there are ownership rights in water, whether Maori or non-Maori.”

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