Below is an email sent to members of the Gulf Users Group on 28 April 2022:
I am writing to bring your attention to an attempt by the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s co-chairs to muzzle Auckland Councillor John Watson, a Forum member, after he shared on social media our NZ Herald advertisement. This advert named the five local body councillors who voted to introduce a new 50:50 co-governance arrangement with mana whenua and ‘others’ to manage the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Furthermore, these five Councillors failed to seek a mandate from the public and ignored the concerns of thousands that had signed our petition or emailed Forum members.
We stand by the claims we made in the advertisement. Legal advice also supports our position.
We are disappointed to see the Forum co-chairs attempt to stifle free speech and public debate on such a controversial issue – an issue that continues to lack transparency. There has been so little detail on the proposed new governance model that it is difficult for members of the public to understand what powers and functions the new Gulf entity might have. Considering other Government policy initiatives relating to co-governance, we believe members of the public are fully justified in their concerns as to what the outcome of the Forum’s decision to advocate for co-governance might be.
Saying NO to co-governance
The threatening action by the Forum co-chairs reinforces the importance of our campaign to ensure democratic governance and control of the Hauraki Gulf is retained. Therefore, the Gulf Users’ Group will continue to oppose the co-governance model. This issue is too important, as it means the voices of 2.2 million citizens will be side-lined concerning the management of the Marine Park.
We will also continue to raise awareness of what is at risk, which may include access to recreational fishing, boating, and the ability for businesses to make a living on the Gulf.
As I mentioned in my last update, we are now calling for a referendum at the local body elections later this year to force the Forum to consult with the community. Additionally, as the proposal will require Government support for legislative change, we are lobbying Government to drop the co-governance proposal.
Our Group supports the intention to improve the health of the Hauraki Gulf but believe this can happen while decisions on the Gulf remain fair, transparent and democratic.
This latest episode of harassment of an elected representative, however, serves only to reinforce our concerns and our determination to retain democratic control.
Thanks for your ongoing support.
Gulf Users Group
John Watson has since published a response to Hauraki Gulf Forum co-chair and Auckland Councillor Pippa Coom in the May edition of Ponsonby News, page 8:
THE HAURAKI GULF MARINE PARK ACT
In the April edition of the Ponsonby News, Cr Pippa Coom comments on changes being proposed to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act, including the creation of a new co- governance entity. In reality this would amount to a new ‘Authority’ with updated powers and funding, comprised of 50% mana whenua membership with a decreed leadership position, in effect guaranteeing control.
What she didn’t mention in the article, however, was her own role in all of this as one of the current co-chairs of the Hauraki Gulf Forum in initiating without mandate the inclusion of 21 of Auckland’s 28 regional parks into the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park at the same time. This ‘transferral’ has been advanced under the vague guise of somehow restoring the health of the Gulf but there is absolutely no compelling rationale or explanation as to how this would happen since the regional parks’ land use is already well managed, in fact to international best practice with no negative impact on the Gulf.
As a result this proposal has been vehemently opposed by groups associated with the development of Auckland’s regional park network over the last 40 years and literally thousands of individuals.
In my view, both moves have more to do with power and control than they do with restoring the health of the Gulf or improving the management of Auckland’s regional park network. While it’s one thing to put forward proposals to address the parlous state of the Hauraki Gulf, which certainly needs addressing, it is quite something else to proceed in this furtive manner in pursuit of what are essentially unmandated and far-reaching political changes that have characterised these two parallel processes.
Ambitions to exercise control over the Hauraki Gulf, well outside anything that could be achieved by the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, are not exactly new. The view might well be that the time is opportune for these radical proposals that have the potential to significantly impact both the Gulf and our Regional Parks.
The Hauraki Gulf and the Regional Park network are synonymous with what defines Auckland and its people, the jewels in the crown of our region. Both are too important to be compromised by proposals that have lacked transparency and adequate detail and which have been advanced to the point of approaches to government ministers with little or no public knowledge or debate.
No amount of selective and self-serving commentary changes any of that.
Auckland councillor and member of the Hauraki Gulf Forum