Waikato Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Bill

  • Michael Cullen
Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations

Madam Speaker, I move, that the Waikato Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Waikato Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Bill be considered by the Maori Affairs Committee.

This Bill achieves three important things

It recognizes the special and enduring relationship Waikato Tainui has with the Waikato River, historically, culturally and spiritually, manifested in the dual principles of te mana o te awa and mana whakahaere.

In so doing it provides a legal structure within which that relationship can be protected and exercised in the future, and which also recognizes the connections that other iwi have with the river.

Thirdly, it creates a framework within which all the communities of interest in the river can play a part in its stewardship.

Each of the changes created by this Bill focus on the goals on which all river stakeholders can agree, the restoration of the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River and its sustainable management in the future.

This is an historic achievement for Waikato Tainui, for all other residents in the Waikato region and, because it is the largest and most significant river system in this country, the people of New Zealand.

When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 it contained the promise of a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between Maori and Pakeha.

Too often the promise and potential of that agreement have remained unfulfilled.

The historical settlements process was established to provide the means to restore relationships between the Crown and the signatories to the Treaty.

This Bill also reminds us that settlements and settlement redress are more than financial or commercial redress.

Where matters of profound cultural, historical and spiritual significance are concerned, relationships are far more important.

This legislation focuses on those relationships to establish an innovative co-management regime for the Waikato River.

The Bill establishes the Guardians of the Waikato River on which all river iwi and regional and national stakeholders are represented. It also sets out a vision for the Waikato River. The Guardians are responsible for the vision for the river and a strategy to achieve that vision.

The Guardians establishment committee set up following the Agreement in Principle for this settlement in December 2007 has already been hard at work and completed a public consultation process to determine the vision and strategy, the key elements of which are incorporated and recognised in this bill.

This provided a confidence building process in which Waikato Tainui and all other stakeholders – other iwi, regional interests and the Crown - could begin to focus on what was required to restore the health and well being of the Waikato River.

The way all members of the Guardians establishment committee carried out their tasks and the relationship they have developed provides cause for optimism that this settlement will have a profound and positive impact.

The Bill also establishes the Waikato River Statutory Board.

This board on which Waikato Tainui, Environment Waikato and other local authorities are represented, provides for Waikato Tainui to participate in the co-management of the river. The board will be responsible for the implementation of the vision and strategy and for monitoring progress towards the goals they have established.

To ensure the changes introduced in this legislation do not duplicate existing processes and create unnecessary additional costs for all parties, the bill integrates this settlement within existing regulatory frameworks by providing legislative recognition for the vision and strategy.

The vision and strategy will be a National Policy Statement for the purposes of the Resource Management Act and a statement of general policy for the purposes of conservation legislation.

Through a Kingitanga Accord between Waikato Tainui and the Crown, the Bill will also provide the structure for future relationships between Waikato Tainui and Ministers of the Crown and their agencies as they work together to restore the health and wellbeing of the river.

To ensure the relationships facilitated by this legislation can be sustained the settlement provides funding for several purposes:

• To provide a $50m fund for the Waikato Raupatu River Trust to undertake initiatives to restore and protect their relationships with the river and its flora and fauna.

• To provide for ongoing participation by Waikato Tainui in the co-management framework established by this legislation and to fund the costs of the Guardians and the Waikato River Board.

• To provide a $20m endowment to support the vision of the late Sir Robert Mahuta who led Waikato Tainui through the historical settlement process and initiated the claims on which those settlements have been based.

Finally the settlement establishes a clean up fund with an initial Crown contribution of $7m per year for 30 years.

This settlement is a clear and straightforward solution to a complex and difficult problem.

The Waikato is our largest river system.

It supports a complex interlinked series of relationships of which our human habitation is a major component.

Long-term failures in existing management relationships associated with the river had seen the quality of this vital system compromised.

Future generations, Maori and non-Maori, faced the prospect of inheriting a river system in a steadily degrading state.

This settlement provides a framework within which that degradation can finally be adequately addressed and funded, the river returned to health and well being and a sustainable management regime implemented.

Our children and their children will then inherit a healthy river capable of providing sustenance and support for future generations in the same way that is has provided sustenance to many generations of Waikato Tainui in the past.

In 1975, Sir Robert Mahuta said,

"The River belongs to us just as we belong to the River. The Waikato tribe and the River are inseparable. It is a gift left to us by our ancestors and we believe we have a duty to protect that gift for future generations."

In introducing this legislation to implement the Waikato River Deed of Settlement we are beginning to carry out that duty adequately - in partnership with Waikato Tainui - for the first time.

In closing these comments on the first reading of this Bill I would like to pay tribute to Waikato Tainui now under the leadership of King Tuheitia.

It is their determination that has placed the restoration of the health and well being of the Waikato River at the forefront of this settlement and ensured that every aspect of this bill is focused on that goal.

I would also like to pay tribute to both Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikahu and Sir Robert Mahuta.

Their leadership in both the land and river claim settlement process was absolutely vital.

It is no accident that Waikato Tainui has been the innovator in both these areas.

This agreement builds on the relationship between Waikato Tainui and the Crown that was re-established with the settlement of the historical land claims.

That settlement has been of great benefit to both Waikato Tainui and the wider community. I expect no less from this settlement.

I consider that the bill should therefore proceed without delay to the Maori Affairs Select Committee. I commend the Bill to the House.