Māori and Crown should co-govern Aotearoa's freshwater resources, Waitangi Tribunal recommends

The Waitangi Tribunal's report on New Zealand's freshwater has been released today, finding inconsistencies with the Treaty of Waitangi and the law allowing some bodies of freshwater to reach a "highly vulnerable state".

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The Tribunal says it’s time Māori freshwater rights are recognised. Source: 1 NEWS

The Tribunal found the present law around freshwater was "not consistent with Treaty principles", resulting in Māori interests "too often been balanced out altogether in freshwater decision-making".

The report came from stage two of the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources Claims.

Presiding Officer Chief Judge Wilson Isaac said that the Resource Management Act (RMA) allowed "a serious degradation of water quality to occur in many ancestral water bodies, which are now in a highly vulnerable state". 

"We urge the Crown to act faster on the serious situation facing many taonga water bodies, and to provide more effectively for co-governance and co-management in freshwater decision-making."

The Tribunal found Māori rights and interests needed to be addressed. National direction to councils was required, and the Tribunal agreed Māori interests in water entailed economic benefits. 

"We agreed with the Crown that Māori are entitled to an economic benefit from their interests in freshwater... that right was inextricably linked to rights of property in their freshwater taonga," the summary of findings stated. 

The Tribunal recommended amendments to the RMA and implementing co-management measures that included a national body made up 50/50 of Crown and Māori representation "to ensure that Treaty principles and Māori values, rights and interests are fully incorporated in freshwater policy and management". It also wanted water policy to be decided by or with the national co-governance body. 

It urgently recommended Crown take action to ensure under-resourcing did not prevent iwi or hapū from participating in the RMA process.