Three Waters: Mana whenua halts work with Dunedin council

The Dunedin City Council's relationship with mana whenua has been plunged into turmoil.

Mana whenua representatives are bitterly disappointed in the council's decision to join more than 30 other councils in opposing key aspects of the Government's Three Waters reforms and have suspended involvement in a partnership with the council.

Fallout is potentially far-reaching, casting doubt on how Māori consultation will be carried out on planned projects that range from the South Dunedin community library complex to development of cycleways.

Rūnanga o Ōtākou chairwoman Rachel Wesley and Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura...
Rūnanga o Ōtākou chairwoman Rachel Wesley and Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura Ellison. Photo: ODT files

Rūnanga representatives have said continuing their involvement in the council's Māori participation working party is inappropriate "while the council appears to view the partnership as mere window dressing".

"We await the council's tangible commitment to a genuine and meaningful partnership before rejoining this forum."

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins is calling on councillors to reverse last month's decision to join the Communities 4 Local Democracy group, which is opposed to the formation of regional water services entities expected to take over control of some assets belonging to councils.

Some councillors want Mr Hawkins replaced by Cr Jim O'Malley as their representative on the Communities 4 Local Democracy group.

The vote to join the group passed 8-7 and it came after Ngāi Tahu was clear about its opposition to the move.

As part of the reforms, it is intended that iwi will have a role in governance.

Dunedin mana whenua, Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou and Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, have backed arguments made by Ngāi Tahu, including that mana whenua have no interest in owning sewer pipes, water reticulation systems and stormwater drains.

Mr Hawkins has put up a notice of motion to be debated by the council on Tuesday, that it revoke the decision to join Communities 4 Local Democracy.

Some councillors want Mayor Aaron Hawkins (left) replaced by Cr Jim O'Malley as their...
Some councillors want Mayor Aaron Hawkins (left) replaced by Cr Jim O'Malley as their representative on the Communities 4 Local Democracy group. PHOTOS: ODT

In his own notice of motion for Tuesday's meeting, Cr Andrew Whiley noted the mayor had attended Communities 4 Local Democracy meetings, received correspondence and could vote on behalf of the council on any decisions made there.

The motion - backed by Crs Jules Radich, Sophie Barker, Carmen Houlahan and Cr O'Malley - made a brief case for replacing the mayor with Cr O'Malley, the infrastructure services committee chairman.

Cr O'Malley had "the most advanced technical knowledge" of Three Waters among elected representatives, it was argued.

Also, as the infrastructure services committee chairman, he was the elected representative with the most direct responsibility for Three Waters systems.

The council's Māori participation working party was established as a councillor advisory panel designed to foster greater understanding of Māori needs and enable more involvement in strategic decision-making.

In a letter to Mr Hawkins, Rūnanga o Ōtākou chairwoman Rachel Wesley and Kāti Huirapa Runaka ki Puketaraki deputy chairwoman Emma Wyeth said the council's decision sent a disturbing signal of abdication of responsibility to its communities and mana whenua.

"We have valued our long and durable relationship with the Dunedin City Council, both at the representative level but also very importantly with staff, who have maintained professional standards and our respect on many kaupapa.

"However, this puts a strain on our local mana whenua relationship with the council."

Ms Wesley said mana whenua understood not all councils supported the proposed Three Waters reforms.

“We still consider them partners and friends," she said.

"But by hitching its wagon to this splinter group, the Dunedin City Council is outsourcing its position on the vital Three Waters issue to outsiders, rather than working in partnership with mana whenua to find a solution that’s best for our community."

Ngāi Tahu had been working with mayors and councils on constructive engagement with the Government, she said.

Kāti Huirapa ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura Ellison said, by contrast, Communities 4 Local Democracy had not reached out to mana whenua before launching its campaign or afterwards when designing alternative models it wanted considered.

"Its claim that it supports 'meaningful mana whenua involvement' in Three Waters isn’t supported by any action."

Urgent action was needed to ensure water services could be provided equitably and sustainably, Mr Ellison said.

Ms Wesley and Mr Ellison said the two rūnanga took their responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi seriously in engaging with the council.

"We have withdrawn from the Māori participation working party while we assess whether that commitment is reciprocated by the council."

Mr Hawkins said the disruption in the relationship between the council and mana whenua was deeply concerning.

"This comes as a direct result of our joining the local government splinter group on Three Waters reform," he said.

"The decision we made is at odds with our commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and has significant implications for our wider work programme.

"The response from the rūnaka has been distressing, but it wasn't unexpected. It is a situation entirely of our own making and a situation we have the power to fix.

"We have been asked to revisit the decision and the only honourable thing to do is to respect that.

"Only a different outcome would allow us to start rebuilding our relationship and get the work we're doing together back on track."

Projects on hold

The council has compiled an initial list of projects placed on hold "while we work out what can and can't be progressed without mana whenua involvement".

Projects are at various stages, but not yet on contract with mana whenua consultancy Aukaha, of which Ms Wesley is chief executive.

They include a housing strategy, assisting in detailed design of the planned makeover of George St and transport projects designed to offset traffic disruption associated with the building of the new Dunedin Hospital.

Climate-related planning for the future of low-lying South Dunedin, refining plans for building the South Dunedin community library and developing a cycling trail with tunnels between Dunedin and Mosgiel appear to be among the projects caught up in the stand-off.

In an email to Mr Hawkins sent on Thursday last week, council chief executive Sandy Graham said the council would look at alternative ways of engaging with Aukaha.

"Over coming days, staff will reach out to Aukaha to begin to understand the implications of the decision and work through each project to assess what can still be delivered.

"At this stage, I am unable to give a timeframe for when we will have a clear understanding of the status of each project."

The mayor's notice was supported by deputy mayor Christine Garey and Crs David Benson-Pope, Marie Laufiso, Mike Lord, Chris Staynes and Steve Walker.


Andrew Whiley. Photo: supplied
Andrew Whiley. Photo: supplied
Cr Whiley said the mayor's move was not a surprise.

"He had been very against Communities 4 Local Democracy at the meeting on February 22," Cr Whiley said.

Cr Whiley said he could see where iwi were coming from and he had no issue with their stance about governance.

However, he was worried about securing a win-win for the city on usage of assets.

Cr Whiley noted the council's water supply system included 21,000ha of water catchment, 1386km of pipeline, 28 pumping stations, 63 reservoirs for raw and treated water and six water treatment plants.

The Government had created a mess through its arrogance and poor process, he said.

Thirty-two councils had signed up for Communities 4 Local Democracy, representing 1.6 million people.

Asked about the council's relationship with mana whenua, Cr Whiley said differences of opinion emerged within partnerships and "the strength of the relationship is how we move past that".

The extent and manner in which the council should object to the Government's reforms has been one of the most divisive issues for the council this term.

Councillors were united in their condemnation of the Government's decision to force councils to be part of planned changes. However, they have been divided about a drive to oppose formation of regional water services entities.

Mr Hawkins has called for the council to be constructive and Crs O'Malley and Whiley have been among those leading calls for the council to push back against the Government more strongly.

If all councillors are in attendance on Tuesday, just one councillor having a change of heart would allow the decision to join Communities 4 Local Democracy to be revoked.