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THREE WATERS: Iwi engagement ‘severely lacking’

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen. PHOTO/FILE

Iwi engagement in the spotlight

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen says the Government’s consultation and engagement with iwi regarding Three Waters Reforms has been “severely lacking”.

But the government department leading the reforms has rebutted this and says it is committed to even more engagement with mana whenua as reforms progress.

Beijen voiced his concerns at a Wellington Water committee meeting and his thoughts were met with agreement by other committee members.

“One thing that has concerned me from the beginning is the consultation and engagement with iwi and it seems to be severely lacking, certainly at a local level,” Beijen said.

“To give you an idea, I had two iwi and a number of hapu come to me saying: “What is going on because I have no knowledge and have never been contacted about this”.”

But the Department of Internal Affairs [DIA], which is leading the Three Waters Reforms process, says it has engaged to its best ability with Wairarapa’s two main iwi: Rangitane o Wairarapa and Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.

It was confirmed last year that the Government would create four publicly-owned water service entities to ensure every New Zealander has access to affordable, long-lasting drinking, waste and stormwater infrastructure without ballooning costs to households and families.

DIA’s deputy chief executive for local government Michael Lovett said that over the past two years the DIA had been committed to sharing information about the Three Waters Reforms process with iwi Maori.

“Direct kanohi ki te kanohi engagement is our preferred way of engaging with iwi Maori,” Lovett said.

“To complement this, we also have a range of tools to share information with iwi Maori such as newsletters and email updates.

“The challenges of covid and aligning diaries for direct engagement have meant that we have not to date been able to meet directly with Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.

“We have had several engagements with Rangitane o Wairarapa at both the Iwi Authority level and with key advisers.

“With the government now indicating the reforms will progress on an ‘all in approach’, the department is looking to re-engage with mana whenua on the next phase of the reform and we welcome the opportunity to work more closely with both iwi of the Wairarapa.”

On Monday, the DIA announced the appointment of a new Three Waters executive director, Maria Nepia, who would focus on “working with iwi and Maori”.

Lovett said the new position signalled the role iwi Maori would play in the Three Waters programme and across the Local Government system.

Under the Three Waters model, the governance of water service entities would be through regional representative groups which would be 50 per cent council members and 50 per cent iwi.

The new water service entities are set to be in place by July 2024.

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Further concerns about a lack of government engagement with mana whenua were voiced at the Wellington Water committee, backing up Beijen’s comments.

Dougal List, who is leading the project to support Wellington region councils through the Three Waters Reforms programme, said views on iwi consultation had been “mixed”.

“What I have heard from some iwi, particularly larger iwi is that they feel they are well informed and involved in the process and that there was good iwi representation through the working group process as well.

“Some other iwi groups/hapu feel they are not aware of the process that is going on.

“There is a mixed level of public understanding on the reforms.

“There is a need for better information on what the government is proposing.”

Wellington Water iwi representative Lee Rauhine-August, of Taranaki Whanui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, said she was feeling “very much out of sorts and very much out of information” regarding the reforms.

“Most people know zero about it and they think because ourselves, Ngati Toa, and Wairarapa are on here [the committee], we might know something, which we don’t.”

Porirua City Council chief executive Wendy Walker said some hapu were feeling “quite dispossessed” and she had set up a hui to look at the issue.

“We’ve been quite keen not to over-explain the Government’s reform programme because it is the Government’s not ours,” she said.

Lower Hutt Mayor Barry Campbell said the Wellington Water committee would be feeding the “message of inconsistency of how iwi have felt they have been engaged” to the DIA.

Local Democracy Reporting has contacted Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitane o Wairarapa for comment.– NZLDR

  • Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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