In a historic piece of legislation, Parliament had voted to allow unelected members appointed by Ngāi Tahu to join elected representatives on Environment Canterbury (ECan).
The two Ngāi Tahu appointees will have full voting powers, and will take their seats following this year’s ECan election. The two new members will be added to the 14 elected ECan members, taking the number of seats to 16.
A large delegation from Ngāi Tahu, including kaiwhakahaere (chair) Lisa Tumahai and kaumātua Sir Tipene O’Regan, was in the parliamentary gallery to see the law passed.
They celebrated with a waiata and a haka as soon as the bill was passed.
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Tumahai said it was a “historic moment” for Ngāi Tahu and iwi around Aotearoa, giving them “official seats at the council table as mana whenua of Waitaha (Canterbury)”.
Spokesperson for the delegation, Taumutu runanga chairwoman Liz Brown, said it was a very exciting day.
“This is the treaty partnership in action. It is something that has been a long time coming.”
Brown said the bill challenged the collective idea of fair democracy “rather than the conventional model which can be a popularity contest”.
Discussion on the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill.
“Sometimes to address inequity, we must take a different approach to the status quo which tends to favour the majority.”
ECan chair Jenny Hughey described it as “a significant milestone” that would lead to better environmental outcomes.
“We want and need mana whenua to contribute to decision-making at the council table with their vast knowledge of the local environment.”
The local bill was introduced on behalf of ECan by Rino Tirikatene, MP for Te Tai Tonga. It was previously defeated as a private member’s bill in 2019.
On Wednesday evening South Canterbury Federated Farmers’ president Greg Anderson said they supported Māori representation on ECan, but thought it should be done democratically.
”We think the people should be elected, not appointed by corporate Ngāi Tahu.”
Both National and Act voted against the bill.
Tirikatene told Parliament at the bill’s final reading that it reinstates mana whenua representation at regional council level.
“Ngāi Tahu are entitled to this representation because that is the promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“This is the modern day expression of that promise.”
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson said the change was a maturing of democracy.
“We seek to frame co-governance as a positive way forward.”
“This is not some Māori takeover … this is about positive partnership.”
National’s justice spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the law change followed Ecan deciding not to consult its ratepayers.
It ran against the principles of equal suffrage, accountability at the ballot box, and people having a say in who ruled them, he said.
He said it would create a precedent, and promised National would repeal the law if it wins next election.
Goldsmith said the change was very different from the National Government’s 2010 appointment of ECan commissioners, which had been a temporary step by elected representatives.
Act MP Simon Court said the law created a conflict of interest. He said Ngāi Tahu as a large “very successful” business with many interests across property, fishing, farming and forestry, would be making decisions about what people can use their land, what consents are granted, and how public funds are spent.
National MP Gerry Brownlee said the law should have been passed as a Government bill making the same offer to other councils, rather than using a back-door process.
The new law brings back the decision-making input Ngāi Tahu had temporarily until a fully elected council was re-instated in 2019 after nine years of commissioners.
Since 2019 ECan has had two Tumu Taiao – mana whenua experts appointed by the 10 Canterbury Papatipu Rūnanga chairs. The pair, Yvette Couch-Lewis and Iaean Cranwell, advise ECan at council at committee meetings but do not have a vote.
Brown said Ngāi Tahu will advertise the roles within a week, with a panel from all 10 runanga interviewing candidates. The chosen appointees will hold their seat for three years, and will be required to report back, she said.
“We will run a robust selection process. We want the best people.”
The Māori Affairs Select Committee received almost 1700 submissions on the bill earlier this year.
Opposing submissions centred mainly on claims that appointing iwi members would be undemocratic, divisive, lead to confilcts of interest, or create a Māori elite or a form of apartheid.