Auckland Council has been slammed for not consulting with Maori on draft proposals to prohibit GMO release, even though representatives from the Independent Statutory Maori Board refused to propose a motion for consultation to take place.
At a meeting of the Auckland Council's Environment and Sustainability Forum, David Taipari the chair of the Independent Maori Statutory Board (IMSB) described the process around consultation for the draft Unitary Plan as 'frightening', and was given support in his criticisms by IMSB representative James Brown.
The opposition from the Maori representatives took an unusual line in questioning the qualifications of the chair of the Inter Council Working Party - Dr Kerry Grundy who is based in Whangarei and was present at the meeting to answer questions on options to protect local communities against harm by GMOs.
The IMSB representatives were also scathing of the fact that despite months of engagement with Iwi, Auckland Council officers had never once mentioned the issue of GMOs to tangata whenua.
Dr Grundy tried to explain that it was inappropriate for the IMSB to be criticising him for not undertaking consultation. This was a matter for Auckland Council staff present at the meeting to address, but they remained largely silent while Dr Grundy was questioned.
In an astonishing turnaround the IMSB representatives then declined to propose a motion for there to be proper consultation with tangata whenua.
This refusal to propose Maori consultation was made despite offers of support and encouragement to do so by the forum chairman Councilor Wayne Walker.
"It is bizarre that the chairman of Independent Maori Statutory Board declined to propose a motion to consult the communities he represents," says Jon Carapiet from the Auckland GE-free Coalition and spokesman for GE-free NZ in food and environment.
IMSB representative James Brown then put forward a view to the effect that Auckland "should leave GMO regulation to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), because they were dealing with Maori". This suggestion ignored expert advice that the EPA left communities exposed to risks which is why Council action under the RMA is necessary in the first place.
In explaining his refusal to put forward a motion for proper Maori engagement in the Unitary Plan draft process, Mr Taipari pointed to the Resource Management Act (RMA) which he said includes specific wording for consulting with Maori and was already sufficient.
The two IMSB members with Des Morrison and Noaline Raffills voted against a motion proposing the ICWP report on GMOs previously 'received', now be considered by the relevant council committees.
"It is absolutely right that Iwi have a say, but that does not seem to have been the motive behind the IMSB representatives' comments. Sadly the Maori representatives refused to put a motion demanding Maori be fully engaged. They simply voted against allowing the wider community to have a say in the process", says Jon Carapiet.
Despite opposition from the IMSB representatives and Councillors Des Morrison and Noeline Raffills, the forum passed a motion to recommend to Councillors that in addition to voting that GMOs be 'mentioned' in the draft Unitary Plan in March, the Plans Committee and Regional Development and Operations committee consider the ICWP reports and wording for the September notified Unitary Plan.
"The concern remains that vested interests with undue influence on Council officers will attempt to corrupt or derail the process," says Jon Carapiet.
"Federated Farmers have been cited as threatening they will 'see Auckland Council in the Hight Court'. It is unacceptable for staff to attempt to respond to such lobbying by blocking the precautionary approach which has been deleted by the Auckland Council from previous policy."
The policy for a Precautionary approach must be restored by Council, and local communities given protection. A robust ten year process of community engagement and legal process shows the most effective and efficient way to do this is by holding GMO-users liable for damage and prohibiting GMO releases into the environment.