< June 2020 newsletter

Partnership trumps good governance - the Taupō water monitoring deal

The Waikato Regional Council is planning to outsource the monitoring of the waters in and around Lake Taupo and its tributaries to the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board. This is despite the Council having identified the risk that it may be expected to undertake similar agreements with other iwi authorities or local authorities that may result in not being able to deliver on expectations due to competing priorities.


According to the Council, the proposal is a means of providing greater involvement for iwi authorities over the region’s natural resources. It is to be done under section 33 of the RMA - which allows the council to transfer it’s “functions, powers or duties” to another public authority.

 “The proposed transfer will create a more efficient and streamlined delivery of some of our monitoring functions with an iwi partner.” [‘Statement of Proposal’ p.6)]

This important environmental work is absolutely a core function of a regional council, yet we are seeing a democratically elected council looking to transfer what they call an ‘essential and vital tool’ to an unelected body.

‘Report to Council’ 13 September 2019 states:

a key driver for section 33 of the RMA is creating efficient and effective service delivery, therefore it is at council’s discretion to determine which opportunities would create these efficiencies and cost savings and enable a more effective service delivery for our community”. (p.112 The Waikato Regional Council Open Agenda package).

Democracy Action believe that if the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board is to be tasked with providing better efficiencies and a more effective service delivery, this should be as a contracted service provider, a proposal the Council should put out to tender.

However, an examination of the proposal gives no confidence the delivery of an efficient and effective service will be the case. The Waikato Regional Council will be providing financial and technical assistance to build capacity within the Trust Board, surely an admittance that the Board does not have the expertise to undertake the function.

If all of this work is transferred to the Trust Board, year one would see an increase in costs to Council, as staff would need to provide training and orientation of the sites. In the following years there would be cost savings and these savings would be used to offset the additional cost of quality assurance checks needed to be done on water samples prior to importing the data into our Council database, auditing of sample data to ensure compatibility, as well as providing ongoing support to Trust Board staff”. [‘Statement of Proposal’ (p.10)]

The Council did consider a contract for services; but decided that “a transfer of functions supports the Trust Board’s fiduciary duty and relationship with Taupō Waters in a way that holds greater significance than a contract, for both TMTB and council”. [Statement of Proposal (p.6)]

The proposal to transfer functions, (in this case the monitoring of water quality), to an iwi authority is setting a precedent - not only within the Waikato Regional Council itself, but also in relation to all local bodies in New Zealand. No doubt many other iwi around the country will be keen to follow suit. Indeed, Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board chair John Bishara hopes a transfer of authority over will be taken up more widely – “it's a platform for others to progress their journey," he claims.

We need to tell the Waikato Regional Council that council functions should stay with the council, and not look to farm them out in the name of partnership. If the Council believes outsourcing water quality monitoring is a better option, it has an obligation to the community to follow a best practice procurement policy by conducting a fully transparent tender process. It should not gift this contract without contest to a favoured entity. 

The proposal is open for consultation until on Wednesday 8 July 2020. To read the proposal and make a submission, visit waikatoregion.govt.nz/have-your-say.

For further information on the proposal see pages 66 – 114 of the Waikato Regional Council Open Agenda package.

Media coverage is available from:

RNZ: Council proposes Ngāti Tūwharetoa board monitor water in Lake Taupō catchment,

NZ Herald: First-of-kind proposal to transfer water functions to Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board

Waatea News: Taupō water monitoring deal points way to future.


Go back to the June 2020 newsletter


New Land and Water Regional Plan for Otago Regional Council

Image source: https://www.orc.govt.nz/media/11399/hierarchy-of-plans.jpg The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is in the process of developing a new Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) - in partnership with Kāi Tahu iwi. Together, they are talking with catchment groups, industry groups and subject experts to help develop the region’s new Plan for freshwater. This plan will include rules and limits on water and land use. Continue reading


All Water Services Entities will be required to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai. Three of its six principles will encompass all aspects of the water delivery system - specifically Mana whakahaere, Kaitiakitanga, and Manaakitanga. These principles are to be defined by tangata whenua. Continue reading

Three Waters reform to give iwi/Māori dominating influence

As the Government releases more information about its Three Waters reforms, it is becoming obvious that the proposed system is to be dominated by the rights and interests of iwi/Māori. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) Three Waters paper ‘Opportunities for Iwi/Māori in the Three Waters Reform’ sets out how this will be achieved.  Continue reading

Three Waters Reform – further constitutional change by stealth

In another step in what the Government terms ‘partnership-based reform’ Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta last week released further information on plans to move the ownership and management of water infrastructure from local councils into the hands of four multi-regional water service entities across New Zealand. This information includes the proposed boundaries of the four water providers, and further details on the proposed water services entities - including governance arrangements, how they would be regulated, and the role of iwi. Nanaia Mahuta stated: “The Government will continue to work with the sector, iwi and industry on some of the details to give these transformational reforms the best chance of success. We will be making further announcements in the coming weeks, including a three waters reform support package for councils and their communities’’. Continue reading

Update on the Three Waters Reform Programme

Early last year many of us made submissions on the Water Services Regulator Bill. Following the public consultation process the Government passed the Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Act in July 2020. The reform programme is now being progressed through a voluntary, partnership-based approach with the local government sector, alongside iwi/Māori as the Crown’s Treaty Partner.  Continue reading

Influential role for Maori at new Water Services Regulator

Taumata Arowai—the Water Services Regulator Bill, open for public submissions until 4th March, seeks to create a new water regulator - to be called Taumata Arowai. The Bill includes provision for a Maori advisory group to work alongside this new Crown entity. The Maori Advisory Group is another manifestation of the government’s commitment to support agencies to form true partnerships with Māori "by actively facilitating new prototype partnerships between the Crown and Māori", as outlined in a cabinet paper released in July 2019, 'Building Closer Partnerships with Māori'. Continue reading

Action Plan for Healthy Waterways

Thank you to everyone who took the opportunity to make a submission on the Government’s 'Action for Healthy Waterways' discussion document. Around seventeen and a half thousand submissions were received, reflecting much interest in the proposals. From a democracy point of view, it is of great concern that several proposals point to the undermining of the democratic control of water, and include the intention to require local authorities to compulsorily include a vague and undefined set of values and interests in the management of the water bodies and freshwater ecosystems in their region. Continue reading

Have your say on looking after our water

The Ministry for the Environment is proposing a raft of legislative and regulatory changes to clean up lakes and rivers within “a generation”.  Continue reading


Last week the Waitangi Tribunal released its report on stage 2* of the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources inquiry. The report recommends two specific amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and a number of paths and mechanisms for co-governance and co-management. Continue reading

Iwi seeking governance of the Marine & Coastal Area, and authority over water

On March 26 Maori claimants from around the country gathered to make submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal for the rights to their coastal water areas, saying that since the foreshore and seabed march in 2004, progress has been slow in recognising iwi governance of their marine and coastal areas. Continue reading

Maori Council demands the control of water

The Waitangi Tribunal has recently been hearing the final part of stage of two of its inquiry into a variety of claims relating to New Zealand’s fresh water resources. (A list of the matters the Tribunal is focusing on is available on the Waitangi Tribunal website, see HERE.) Continue reading

Government's Freshwater Policy

The government released its water policy last month, see HERE. It avoids dealing with the question of ownership, instead focusing first on cleaning up rivers, and then looking into the more difficult issue of water allocation. Continue reading

Ngāi Tahu to Minister: No appointments without us

Ngāi Tahu is mounting a legal challenge to the (former) Minister of Conservation's appointment decisions for the West Coast Conservation Board. It appears the iwi has a beef with the Minister for having the impudence to reappoint a member of the board without engagement with tangata whenua and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as treaty partner. Continue reading