Maori left out of water debate for far too long – Te Ururoa Flavell

The government has rejected an iwi proposal to get rid of water consents and give iwi permanent rights.

The government this week rejected an iwi proposal to get rid of water consents and give iwi permanent rights.

But Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell hopes the government and iwi will have a proper dialogue about water management and sustainability as a taonga and the doors remain open.

"The notion that Maori will come over the hill and take away somebody else's rights is silly,” he told TV One’s Q+A programme

“Allocations have been made without Maori involvement in them.”

When questioned about criticisms from Judith Collins and Winston Peters,  Mr Flavell responded by saying that’s a down side to the debate.

“The framework within which Maori look at issues to do with taonga and in this case water, is totally different. We're looking long into the future. We’re not just talking about the resource for the here and the now,” he says.

“We’re talking about setting up a regime that allows generations into the future to be able to drink it, to swim in it and actually get some kai from it.”


RAW DATA: Q+A transcript: Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell on TV One’s Q+A 

Watch the interview here


MICHAEL Mr Flavell, John Key says no one can own the water. Does your party agree with that?


FLAVELL Well, the august body of the Waitangi Tribunal suggests that Maori have rights that are akin to ownership, and in the regard, he probably has a different view certainly from- firstly from the Tribunal and secondly from the iwi.


MICHAEL This iwi leaders group idea from the report that they have commissioned that water rights can be traded. Is that something that you support?


FLAVELL Well, that's a decision for the iwi to make. In the end, this whole discussion is about not me as the Maori Party-


MICHAEL But do you think this is the way to go?


FLAVELL What I’m saying that at this point in time, the iwi are in that discussion right now, amongst the 25 or so consultation they’re having up and down the country to talk about options. The issues about tradable rights and all that sort of stuff are on the agenda. At this point in time, I think we’ve got to come back to the original kaupapa, which is around, you know, looking long term about the sustainability of the resource, which is part of the iwi discussions; issues to do with protection; issues to do with use; issues to do with management long term. And I think that’s- I think we should be acknowledging the role the iwi have made in terms of opening this whole debate.


MICHAEL But that point they’ve raised in this debate that John Key has this week rejected, that a regime like that will not go through under his government. Do you accept that or do you want him to reconsider?


FLAVELL Well, I’d hope that we may leave that door open. Iwi have been proactive to find their place with respect to having an input into the discussions over that issue. I’d hope that remains open and live. For us to cut off discussions at this point in time I don’t think is helpful, and therefore, it should be appropriate to leave the door open to have ongoing debate with iwi.


MICHAEL So how involved are you in these discussions? Do you have that sort of clout when you all sit around the table?


FLAVELL Well, from the very start, Maori Party has been very strong in advocacy at the highest level around the issues of water.


MICHAEL And are you being listened to?


FLAVELL Well, the debate is going on, so we must be listened to. That’s the first point. The second point is we developed the framework with respect to the kaupapa Ko Te Mana o Te Wai, which sets out the values, a system by which- a values framework that allow us to consider water. We’ve looked at also securing some money with respect to the cleaning up of water. And in the end, really, we’ve opened the door up for iwi to have those debates directly at the highest level by way of a forum such as an iwi leaders forum and so on.


MICHAEL And so what allocation do you think Maori are entitled to?


FLAVELL That’s a debate for iwi.


MICHAEL But what’s your…?


FLAVELL My feeling about that doesn’t actually matter in this debate, because my role is to advocate as- I’m not the Treaty partner. That is the debate between the Crown and iwi. My role as a politician is to open up the doors for iwi, for hapu to have an open debate with respect to the issues that they feel strongly about. Water is one of them, because it’– as we phrase it about as being a taonga for us; taonga being something that we treasure. We talk about it by way of saying such as, ‘Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au.’ That talks about the relationship, ‘I am the river, the river is who I am.’ That is the strong spiritual connection that our people have.


MICHAEL So if you have that connection and you lead the Maori Party, what is your opinion on this? What do you think is the right allocation of water for Maori? You can see how that is important, I guess, for your supporters to know.


FLAVELL Well, no- Well, it is important, absolutely, but that’s a discussion to be had between the government and iwi.


MICHAEL Are you torn on this? Are you torn between the government and iwi? Is that why you can’t say what your thought on this is?


FLAVELL No, I’m saying that because it’s fact. At the end of the day, the discussion with respect to the allocation of- the management of water, the protections of water are issues to be sorted out between iwi and the Crown as partners. My role is to open up the door to allow iwi to come through the door and advocate as strongly as possible, which is what we’ve done since my predecessors and myself, which we advocate on a daily basis with respect to acknowledgement of those rights.



MICHAEL So if iwi get those rights in some form, what happens then? What is their goal? What do they want? Is it to protect the water? Is it to profit from the water?


FLAVELL Well, it’s sad that the whole issue of profiting from the water has been raised because in a sense, that is not where our people want to be. What they do want to be involved in are issues to do with- well, firstly, have the right recognised. That’s number one. Secondly to be involved with the management and the use of the water and actually the sustainability of resource for all New Zealanders into the future. That’s, I think, where they want to go.


MICHAEL But there is a profit element there, too, isn’t there, because the moment it becomes tradable, the moment you can make money out of it, there’s profit involved and there are costs involved for those who are buying the rights, isn’t there?


FLAVELL Sure, but what we’re saying, and I think iwi are saying as well, is that we find that balance between recognising those rights in the first instance and allow the opportunity for economic development, if they so choose. If they don’t, then leave it alone.


MICHAEL So, Federated Farmers has said all the water’s allocated, that if you take away a portion of it, any portion of it to give to Maori, you’re effectively it creating another grievance. How do you solve that problem? Because somebody has to go without to accommodate those Maori rights.


FLAVELL And so we go back to the table and start- and keep the discussion going to find a way through.


MICHAEL But what are the possible answers?


FLAVELL Well, that’s to be determined by the discussion between the Crown and iwi. That’s why the iwi leaders forum have taken a proactive stand, going throughout the country to seek opinion, to seek views about issues of tradable rights and so on. They’re in that process right now. It’s a little bit early to determine that now.


MICHAEL But it is a very valid question that’s being thrown out there by Federated Farmers, isn’t it? What about us? What happens if we miss out? What can you do to allay some of those fears?


FLAVELL The issue is that Maori have felt they have been left out for far too long and that allocations have been made without Maori involvement in them. So, you know, the notion that Maori will come over the hill and take away somebody else's rights is silly, because- and we want to take a considered approach – this is what I hear from iwi involved – we want take a considered approach to the issues of management, sustainability and use and that at the moment if everything is already allocated, then we’ve got to come back to do it on a basis of recognition of a right that has already been discussed through the Waitangi Tribunal and, indeed, the Supreme Court.


MICHAEL Can you see how a National Government may be reluctant to give away any sort of right, given you’ve got regional communities, farming communities who are going to be worried about this? And that is a huge part of National support base.


FLAVELL Yes, and that also an element of common sense also applies that if these issues become so serious that we close the doors on these discussions, then there will be some kickback from the Maori communities. And that’s why it’s important that we continue the ongoing debate on the issue.


MICHAEL Is it a seabed and foreshore-type issue?


FLAVELL Well, some people have mentioned that. But I think we are a lot closer to finding some solutions for it and, indeed, willingness by the part of ministers, Nick Smith and so on, with respect to moving forward and dealing with these issues. This is why the RMA is so important at the moment, because within the RMA, there are issues to do with allocation and so on. So I think there's a willingness keep the doors open and keep the discussions going. I certainly get that from iwi to make sure that we do have the debate; it’s ongoing, because what we’re talking about is the sustainability of resource in the best interest of all New Zealand ers. This isn’t just about Maori; it’s about all New Zealanders. And I think that Maori will view bodes well for the whole country in looking into the future.


MICHAEL Is this an issue the Maori Party would be prepared to walk away from, its support with the National Party over?


FLAVELL No. Every time there’s two issues that commonly come up as soon as Maori things arise. One is that the Maori Party will walk away, and the other one is it always ends up inevitably in a race debate. Firstly, we are not about to walk away until such time as we have given a considered opinion about what's going on. That’s been our stance in the past and remains our stance.


MICHAEL And can that be done by Waitangi Day next year? Because that’s the sort of time frame that walking would…


FLAVELL It remains to be seen, but I think it would be important to tell you that I think there's a fierce determination on the part of iwi to move this and to get a point where we have some common lines, and secondly I think that what I’ve heard from- certainly from the ministers is a desire to also try and achieve that goal. But if it doesn’t, it’s far better to keep the discussion going because the issue is important for New Zealanders.

MICHAEL You mentioned the race element there. We’ve had Judith Collins already, who’s called this a cash grab; Winston Peters has said, ‘Once again, National is doing a deal to disadvantage New Zealanders as a whole.’ Some people are going to believe that, aren’t they?


FLAVELL And that’s a down side, because, as I said to you, the framework within which Maori look at issues to do with taonga and in this case water, is totally different. We're looking long into the future. We’re not just talking about the resource for the here and the now. We’re talking about setting up a regime that allows generations into the future to be able to drink it, to swim in it and actually get some kai from it, which is talking about the sustainability of this country into the future. So I think the fair-minded New Zealanders will understand the approach has been taken by iwi and, indeed, our part as the Maori Party to look in that sort of framework.


MICHAEL Just finally, we’re talking to a historian later in the programme about the New Zealand wars. I understand you were the one of only MPs to turn up to the 150th centenary last year. Does a commemoration of the New Zealand Wars-? Does there need to be a national day as there is for Anzac Day?


FLAVELL I believe there is. I think that iwi certainly throughout- it wasn’t just one day; it was five or six throughout to celebrate the 150th commemoration of those battles – Orakau, Pukehinahina and so on – that they made it really clear that history is sitting on our back doorstep. Yes, we must acknowledge the deeds of those who went overseas and fought for our country. But on our back doorstep, there’s a huge amount of history that most people don't know about. And I suppose it was illustrated to me recently when the Right Honourable Jim Bolger was at Parihaka, which is just up the road from his own family farm, and talked about the fact that as a child he never heard one thing about Parihaka just down the road, and yet, Parihaka was a huge part of New Zealand history. So to answer the question, I would be a huge advocate of looking- for the country to look towards a day that commemorates those sorts of battles in the future.


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