The current “advisory” relationship between local government and Maori is insufficient at best, broken at worst. It is about to be changed here in Hawke’s Bay — hopefully for the better — by the Crown in direct negotiation with the nine Treaty Claimant Groups mandated here in the Bay.
HB Regional Council is currently disposing of a critical issue in a manner that perfectly illustrates why the present arrangement is unsatisfactory.
As everyone probably knows, the Government, with Maori Party support, has proposed replacing the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act with the 2010 Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill. Various players have rather strong views on the matter, plenty of misinformation is floating around, and passions have been ignited.
Into the Parliamentary process steps the HB Regional Council, with a proposed submission on the Bill, a matter first put before the Council at its Environmental Management Committee meeting on November 10. Councillors were told that their submission had to be made by a November 19 deadline. But since a new Maori Advisory Committee had not yet been installed for the new triennium, there would be no opportunity for consultation with the Maori community. Apparently the HBRC hasn’t the imagination to figure out how to consult with Maori outside of that format.
Nevertheless, the Councillors were determined to press ahead, suggesting that a submission be filed by the 19th, and then subsequently amended if the Maori Committee (to be organized on November 23) expressed serious misgivings that the Councillors wished to take into account. [Notice who is in charge here.]
The Councillors were forced to re-convene on the matter as a full Council when unanimous agreement for this decision (required when meeting as the Environment Committee) could not be achieved.
So the Councillors met again to decide the matter — this time as the full Council, where a majority vote is sufficient — on November 18. They were newly informed by staff that the Council would not be able to change its submission, once entered, in the event the Maori Committee was unhappy with the submission, but could only offer additional information to support their original submission. In other words, HBRC couldn’t change its mind after further consultation.
With Mike Mohi, the former (and presumably next) Chairman of the Maori Advisory Committee present, the Council decided to proceed with its submission. Mohi indicated that he personally favoured the submission, and that he was doubtful the new Maori Committee would oppose it, although he conceded he hadn’t conferred with anyone.
That was the extent of the Maori consultation on a Bill with huge ramifications for that community and of course for the entire Bay.
Councillors and HBRC staff minimize the nature of their submission, claiming that they are addressing only “implementation” issues, and not challenging the underlying thrust of the proposed legislation. That’s rubbish. Precisely the areas they are most fretful about — the interplay between Maori control and planning for their coastal land versus current RMA procedures, and the nature of permitted “customary” activities, to name two examples — go right to the heart of the re-defined partnership regime the Government is intending to install.*
Whether the proposed submission is innocuous or not is precisely the sort of question that should have been sorted through consultation … and not just consultation with Maori. Heaps of Pakeha have strong, and conflicting, views on the legislation. The issue here is power, not procedure … whatever side you come down on.
In short, the Councillors do not want their sandbox messed with. For them, this is a matter of protecting their institutional prerogatives … their levers of power.
The “lord of the manor” language used by Councillors in discussing the process disclosed their real attitudes …
Said Councillor von Dadelszen: “We will take Maori views seriously, but this is our submission.”
Said Councillor Scott: “This is our function as a Regional Council … we have a duty to submit … They can put in their own submission.” [Apparently forgetting that the Maori Committee won’t be installed before the submission deadline!]
How benevolent of these Councillors! So much for partnership. The Councillors clearly view the Maori as just another bothersome interest group, like environmentalists, moteliers and podiatrists.
However, like it or not — and better for New Zealand — it appears the Government and the Crown have a more progressive view of the relationship that should exist between Maori and local government. And the end result will be some form of co-governance with respect to natural resources that reaches far beyond the marine and coastal area.
It looks like the Regional Council might have little say in what that co-governance looks like, since the latest report is that a number of Treaty Claimant Groups have indicated they will not support the arrangement, favoured by HBRC, that has been tabled for some months now.
The shape of co-governance will be negotiated and agreed upon by the Crown and the treaty claimants. To the extent HBRC hopes to gain an effective voice in these negotiations, one would expect they might have thought to be more inclusive and sensitive in their approach to this Bill submission. Instead, their handling of the matter can do nothing but send warning signals to watching Maori.
Better they made no submission at all.
*In addition, the HBRC submission will endorse the more extensive critique of the Bill submitted by Local Government New Zealand. I’ll wager not two Councillors actually read that submission before making their decision to endorse it.