Water rules group has 50% mana whenua membership

The governance group that will oversee implementation of new water rules in Otago now has 50% mana whenua membership.

Cr Michael Laws. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Cr Michael Laws. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
One Otago regional councillor said "woke madness" had won the day at the council.

Chairwoman Cr Gretchen Robertson, on the other hand, said mana whenua had been included on the governance group for the Otago Regional Council’s land and water plan from the start in recognition of "our strong partnership and their critical role" in the development of the plan.

As the council rushes to make its freshwater planning framework fit for purpose, it sought and received a six-month extension from Environment Minister David Parker for its forthcoming land and water plan, now due to be notified before the end of June next year.

As a part of the extension, the council committed to a "health check" on its progress and consequently a series of operational changes to the work plan were made.

A staff report presented to councillors on the matter last week also said the health check raised questions about the function and efficiency of the plan’s governance group.

Accordingly, councillors voted 8-3 to confirm the group’s new structure.

Crs Robertson, Andrew Noone and Lloyd McCall along with two Ōtākou Rūnaka members and one Murihiku member were confirmed as members and councillors limited the group to providing project management oversight, and not policy direction for the plan.

Crs Michael Laws, Gary Kelliher and Kevin Malcolm voted against the changes.

After the meeting Cr Laws said he opposed "this anti-democratic nonsense".

The majority of his colleagues had given unelected iwi representatives "greater governance input than the rightfully elected representatives of Otago".

"Not just a sad day, a mad day," he said.

"This isn’t simply undemocratic, it’s woke madness.

"It’s a bizarre belief that local iwi should get 50% of the voice on overseeing water policy direction and implementation."

Answering questions from Cr Laws during the meeting, policy and science general manager Anita Dawe said the terms of reference had previously allowed for any councillor to sit in on the group and she confirmed the new terms of reference would stop that.

Ms Dawe additionally said the group had no decision-making powers but would make recommendations to either a committee or councillors as a whole. Cr Laws said the council had without explanation adopted "co-governance principles" for what was nevertheless a "persuasive" role.

Among his colleagues, Cr Kelliher agreed.

"It is a decision-making group even though it is stated that it isn’t," he said.

"It sets an initial direction and then beyond that it’s almost ... impossible to change."

After the meeting, Cr Robertson declined to offer a view on Cr Laws’ assertion the new group membership was the result of "woke madness".

Instead, she said the governance group already had three permanent iwi appointees and the decision made was only to appoint another councillor, Cr McCall, to the group.

She too said the governance group did not have a decision-making role in the development of the plan.

"Policy direction is given by the policy and science committee and final decisions on the [plan] will ultimately go before the council," she said.

The decision had focused the scope of the governance group on oversight, "where previously it was involved in policy direction".

"The governance group also monitors key risks and ensures that the plan will deliver on the principle of Te Mana o te Wai, which is the fundamental concept underpinning the new essential freshwater package."

At the meeting Cr Kate Wilson said councillors needed to "empower staff to get on with the plan".

"We have made an undertaking to get this plan out and we have to keep the wheels spinning," she said.