Water--- the most basic of needs—God/Nature-given, flowing freely in our streams, river and into our lakes, or falling from the clouds. Who owns it? There has been a timely debate at a Hui (meeting—for those outside NZ) called by our Maori King. His move in itself is quite unusual. Emptions have been stirred amongst many New Zealanders. The question has been ‘below the surface’ for many years in our wonderful country, because one thing for sure is that we are indeed blessed with our water resources.
The debate about ownership has come to the fore, because our Government is intent on selling some of our State Assets. From all of the polls conducted by various media, it seems that the majority of the NZ public are against such moves, even if they are only so-called ‘partial’ sales. That means that the Government retains 51% of the assets.
The Government has remained resolute in its claims that they foreshadowed such a move in their manifesto, prior to the elections of 2011, thus claiming the mandate to continue. That the public is becoming quite vociferous in its opposition to the sales has made no difference.
Maori opposition has increased and the question of ownership of a range of ‘natural’ assets has arisen. This includes water, rivers and even the wind. The debate has ramped up yet again, as Maori see (along with a good deal of the public) their claiming ownership of the said resources (although their claims have existed for a very long time) as a means of stopping or at least delaying the asset sales.
They may well succeed where others have failed. In the long run however, the question remains about ‘who actually owns the assets they are claiming as their own. I have always been happy when Maori talk about ‘guardianship’ of lakes, mountains, rivers etc. I see that as being in line with the treaty Of Waitangi (a founding document for New Zealand). I agree with the concept that Maori retain some form of guardianship over the said resources in partnership with the State. That does not imply ownership in the traditional ‘Western style model.
Am I wrong in assuming that what I am now hearing is quite a different concept about ‘ownership? The ‘reported’ rhetoric from the Hui sounds suspiciously different and the King has come out quite strongly to reinforce this understanding. He has been reported as saying that ’We own the water.’
I am glad that the debate is continuing, but I am uncomfortable when I hear that claims are being made that go beyond the concept of Guardianship. I know that there is debate overseas about ownership of wind resources and I am sure that Maori will be watching that closely. I hope that the debate in NZ remains logical, legal and based on a shared future. I am happy though, that the debate may derail the Government’s plans got sell our State assets but at what price now that the debate seems to have neared the very heart of the Treaty. Our next moves must be very sensitively and sensibly thought out.