National leader Judith Collins maintains she’s simply asking questions of the Government on the issue of Māori co-governance, a topic she’s concentrated her time on despite Budget 2021 looming.
Yesterday, the National leader used question time to ask the Prime Minister about a document “proposing co-ownership of South Island drinking water” between Ngāi Tahu and local councils.
Jacinda Ardern pushed back on the statement yesterday, saying the document was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu and prepared by PWC, but wasn’t being pursued by either the iwi or the Government. The iwi also dismissed the claim.
It also follows Collins’ speech to National’s Mainland Regional Conference over the weekend, just days from Budget 2021’s unveiling, in which she mentioned “Māori” and "Treaty" 24 times each, "iwi" 14 times, “budget” and “housing” once each, and “jobs” zero times.
Today Breakfast host John Campbell asked Collins whose votes she was after.
“I just wonder who you’re playing to,” Campbell said.
Collins said she was raising reasonable questions.
She said the topic of the ownership of South Island public water was important to consider because it affected the environment, the people who used the resource, and their futures.
“It’s right to ask these questions. It’s hard to ask these questions,” she said.
“I actually care about our constitution and democracy.”
It was important for the Government to be having a “conversation with New Zealanders about this very important issue around water”, Collins said.
Campbell said the conversation of Ngāi Tahu’s role in water followed on from the National Government reaching a settlement with the iwi in 1997. A 1998 Act passed by the Parliament of the time recognised Ngāi Tahu’s rangatiratanga over the takiwā (the region).
Collins said the document she brought into the House yesterday, which she said was presented by the Department of Internal Affairs to the Government, “has moved well on from that [settlement]”.
The public had praised her for asking the questions, Collins added.
Campbell asked why Collins was not, instead, raising issues about the unequal outcomes Māori experienced in areas like health.
Collins said she expected the Government would tackle these issues in its Budget tomorrow, and that the Opposition would hold them to account for what they announce.
She said the Government had already failed on housing and crime, “all of the big promises” of its previous budgets.
The National leader earlier this week dismissed her fall in the preferred Prime Minister rating to 5.6 per cent.
The first Newshub-Reid Research poll of the year saw Collins’ rating drop 12.8 points compared to its last poll before the election.
Collins said she still had the backing of her caucus to stay on as leader.
National MPs said they also backed Collins’ assertion that the Government was being “separatist” by implementing "separate systems of governance" for Māori “by stealth”.
In the House last week, Ardern said in response: "It seems in Government there is a commitment to partnership [with Māori] but in Opposition there is a race to the bottom in terms of politicising a debate that we need to have as a nation."
Ardern suggested Collins’ rhetoric about Māori was about politics.