Speech: Canterbury Regional Council (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water management Bill)

Wednesday 31 March 2010, 10:43AM
By Hone Harawira


Kia ora tatou katoa e te Whare. Whenever this House goes into urgency – and it has been happening a lot lately – we sacrifice the principle of democracy. It is not the democracy defined as being the “control of a group by the majority of its members” or majority rules but rather the ‘ form of government in which the people have a voice in the exercise of power, typically through elected representatives’.

Legislation in this House should properly reflect the process of negotiation, discussion, debate and consultation. But taking bills through urgency, from whoa to go, is by its very nature a denial of genuine democracy. It prevents people from having a voice, and that is a stage not far removed from the totalitarian and communist states that we are always critical of in this House.

The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill is hugely important, I say to Mr Horomia, because it proposes a sea change in the way in which water will be viewed and how it will be managed. I understand that this bill is specifically about Canterbury, designed to respond to the concerns about the performance of Environment Canterbury and the urgent management of water within Environment Canterbury’s catchment area.

But I have no doubt that what is being proposed will also become the basis for a template on how our Government manages water everywhere else. That will impact on how Maori everywhere are involved, in terms of their rivers, their lakes, their harbours and their seas. That is where the Maori Party comes in.

We are the party who carries the interest of ensuring that issues about water management, including mana whenua, Treaty claims in respect of water ownership, the management of water, water rights and privatisation are properly considered in any statement on water, just as we know that all of those matters also need to be considered in the review of the Resource management Act.

There are also the wider, more comprehensive issues about the way in which we protect our streams, our lakes, our rivers, and our waterways from agricultural, industrial, and domestic waste, as well as the adjoining land rights and the overall policy in respect of the way which water is viewed in Aotearoa. All those matters demand greater debate and participation from Maori across the country, which will not be possible for this bill given that it is being rushed through the house under urgency.

We are also concerned that this bill will effectively and totally replace the Resource Management Act 1991. It will replace absolute administrative power in the hands of the unelected commissioners and the Minister for the Environment, and, effectively, take over the role and purpose of the Environment Court as well.

Indeed, comments from Wyatt Creech the Environment Canterbury, when making decisions on water allocation, was placing too much emphasis on the environment, basically sums up the actual purpose of the bill, which would seem to be to support pro-business interests at all costs.

The bill highlights a flawed belief in the myth that the environment must be balanced against the economy. That is the standard line from business interests on all matters of environmental issues. But the reality is that the economy is not a separate function but a critical element of society itself. Society is utterly dependent on the environment, and we ignore the reality of nature at our peril.

The bill also states it will provide the commissioners with the powers to enable them to rapidly progress the development for the Canterbury region’s resource management framework, freshwater in particular. But there will be no elected representatives. There has been no consultation.

Maori will not have a proper role in how things are being run, and we will end up with an entity answerable only to the Ministers of a Government dedicated to maximising commercial return from a resource that everyone should have a say in.

We have heard all the horror stories about Environment Canterbury, it was last in the 2007-08 survey on resource consents, always in the court over its decisions, under fire for institutional failure from the review group, and it was without the support of local iwi Ngai Tahu as well.

We will be supporting this bill at first reading, but we signal our grave concerns at the way in which water is being considered without due concern for the treaty rights of Ngai Tahu and the wider Maori interest in water across Aotearoa. Tena tatou katoa.