The Water Services Bill (the Bill) currently making its way through Parliament has much to commend it. Most New Zealanders want the quality of our freshwater and drinking water to be maintained to a high standard throughout the country. Similarly, most would support the prioritising of wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and maintenance to an equally high standard. These are absolute basics in any first world country.
However, the ‘team of 5 million’ have every reason to be concerned at the positioning of some people (hapu, iwi, tangata whenua and Maori) above all fellow citizens in terms of authority over water, its management and provision. Water is the essence of life. It belongs to us all and we all have a vested interest in its health. Nobody in New Zealand should have a stronger say or entitlement than others due to part of their ancestry.
In the proposed legislation, there are areas that could easily be manipulated to disadvantage the majority of us.
Te Mana o te Wai
In the Bill, this concept commands all persons, functions and duties relating to our water, so it is particularly concerning that there is no definition provided. To even find the current explanation of “Te Mana o te Wai”, we must seek it from the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM). But even that is not definitive as the Bill states that there will be “changes to how the concept is described and how it must be applied”, thereby failing an important test of any first world nation. A well-functioning country requires certainty in its laws, otherwise they are easily corrupted and human rights can be abused. The lack of certainty in this Bill makes us all very vulnerable.
The Bill’s application of “Te Mana o te Wai” is apartheid in nature and is very corruptible in that it secures enormous power for self-appointed Maori leaders over other New Zealanders in matters pertaining to this basic necessity. It also suggests that cultural/religious beliefs outweigh any scientific imperatives.
The Bill promotes the Six Principles of Te Mana o te Wai. As they are explained, three (Governance, Stewardship and Care and Respect) seem just fine. However, the other three (Mana whakahaere, Kaitiakitanga and Manaakitanga) have no boundaries, limits or any other democratic safeguards. They have no place in our legislation as they position some people and their beliefs as having higher power and authority over water than all other New Zealanders. As such, the Principles are elitist, racist, divisive and contrary to basic human rights. If New Zealanders were fully informed about them and what they could mean to the control and cost of water in the future, it’s highly unlikely anyone would consider these Principles to be fair and reasonable.
Power over Local Authorities
In a great example of appalling law-making, the Bill requires local authorities to give effect to the undefined, unlimited, unchallengeable, subject-to-change ‘Te Mana o te Wai’, “to the extent they (local leaders) wish to be involved”, in the management of freshwater (including government decision-making processes). Other New Zealanders (seemingly even proven science) are ignored while ‘‘tangata whenua’ are given an absurd legal power over local authorities −
- to identify matters of importance, how Te Mana o te Wai will be applied locally, and the outcomes required for waterbodies;
- to “be enabled to apply different systems of knowledge for freshwater care and be involved in monitoring”, and
- “to implement the National Objectives Framework”.
The Bill even forces Regional Councils to ‘investigate’ divesting their governance authority to ‘tangata whenua’ by joint management and/or a transfer of powers or similar!!! Did any of us vote for that constitutional change? There is no citizen agreement or authorisation, no requirements for responsible or fair administration, nor any safeguards against conflicts of interest or abuse of power being conferred.
This anti-democratic, elitist and racist Bill creates opportunities (without redress) for human rights abuses. The power given to those with some Maori ancestry appears to be unchallengeable, unaccountable, and very corruptible.
Taumata Arowai–the Water Services Regulator
Separately established but responsible for administering the regulatory regime in the Bill,
this organisation includes an unelected, unaccountable, unchallengeable “Māori Advisory Group”. It has the power to influence the objectives, functions, and principles, including –
- “how to interpret and give effect to TeMana o te Wai” (which as previously noted is unrestricted in its interpretation); and
- “how to enable mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, and kaitiakitanga to be exercised.” (Once again, these concepts are undefined and unlimited, and ignore the cultural expectations and beliefs of all other New Zealanders).
Compliance Officers and their Powers
Compliance officers wield significant power so it’s concerning that they can be appointed because they “belong to a class of persons”. The criteria already cover those who are “suitably qualified and trained”, so this “class of persons” one suggests that ethnicity may suffice.
Compliance officers are also given extraordinary powers to enter without a search warrant if they “believe there’s a serious risk to public health”. Interestingly, the only exception is for maraes and related buildings which are to be given “cultural consideration”. Other religious or cultural venues are not mentioned.
Cultural Factors Interrupting Supply
The Bill allows for the provision of drinking water being restricted or interrupted, with one possible cause being “cultural factors affecting the source…….(for example, a rahui)”.
This means that cultural or religious mores can override the proven science or filtration capabilities of a water supply and force it to be stopped. Cultural and religious beliefs (without scientific substantiation) are personal and should not be imposed on other New Zealanders who don’t share the same beliefs. Once again, this obligation does not provide certainty in law nor prevent any abuse of power.
Use of the Term “owner”
Loosely referencing ‘owner’ in the Bill without any qualification sets a dangerous precedent. Common law demands that no one owns water as it is essential to all life. However, the Iwi Leaders’ Forum has been striving for ‘ownership’ of it for many years now.
Seemingly in support of that campaign, the Minister of Local Government and Maori Development, Nanaia Mahuta is driving this Bill. She wants to see “equitable democracy” in New Zealand but won’t define what she means by this. So we would be incredibly naïve not to assume that the Bill’s objective is tribal control of/perpetual revenue from water.
Te reo is increasingly being used without an English translation when naming Government policies, processes, systems and departments. This is very confusing to the majority of New Zealanders (including many Maori) who do not speak this language, much of which has only been recently created. It gives the impression that the Government –
- hopes to keep New Zealanders in a state of bewilderment,
- doesn’t want the public to know exactly what’s being implemented, and
- is trying to frustrate our ability to hold the Government or any other delegated authority to account.
Good law is that which is well defined and certain, and which does not favour any one ethnicity or part ethnicity over all others. Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the provision and control of water – the essence of life.
As it stands now, this Water Services Bill fails the standard. It vests unspecified power, control and revenue in the hands of unelected, unaccountable and unchallengeable people over all other New Zealanders.
Nowhere in this Bill are there safeguards against –
i. religious or cultural beliefs negating proven science,
ii. abuses of power,
iii. conflicts of interest, or
iv. inappropriate allocations of taxpayer funds.
It’s certainly in keeping with the growing belief that Prime Minister Ardern’s Government is imposing apartheid by stealth on our country, undermining our constitutional democracy, and destroying hopes for long term unity, peace and security.
Wouldn’t it be a relief if Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Government governed for all New Zealanders − as she promised on election night − by removing the discriminatory aspects from the Water Services Bill?
First published: NZCPR Apr 21