Some light is thrown (but not much) on biodiversity working group’s line of accountability

Remember the consultative working group being established to develop the Wellington Regional Biodiversity Framework?

Sure you do.  It’s the group which gives more voting powers to Maori than to non-Maori members in electing co-leaders and – while it has been set up in the name of diversity – wants members to have a good grasp of Treaty stuff.

Elected members of the Greater Wellington Regional Council seem to have played no part in the way this working group is being established and the Wellington Regional Biodiversity Framework – which involves several organisations as well as the regional council – does not report to a council committee.

Point of Order established this when the council responded to Bob Edlin’s questions:

  1. Did the regional council (or a council majority) vote in favour of the arrangement whereby Maori members of the working group will get to vote for their own co-chair and then get to vote for the other co-chair – but non-Maori members will get to vote for only one co-chair?
  2. What (in a nutshell) was the rationale for this decision?
  3. Did the regional council (or a council majority) vote in favour of a matauranga Maori worldview shaping the way the framework is developed?
  4. Why was a science-based approach to shaping the framework discarded – or deemed of less importance– in favour of the belief system, rooted in spiritualism, of perhaps no more than 15% of the population?
  5. An understanding of and/or commitment to the Treaty is one of the screening questions on applications to become a member of the working group. How is such a commitment compatible with the aim to have a diversity of opinions expressed on the working  group?
  6. Does a commitment to the Treaty require a commitment to “the Treaty partnership” and “co-governance” between Crown and iwi, and – if so – can you steer me to the clauses of the Treaty which mention “partnership” or “co-governance”?
  7. Otherwise, what is the basis of the council’s intent to build such a partnership and establish co-governance structures?
  8. Can you steer me to public documents which help me understand who decided what on the establishment of the diversity working group?

For the public record, here’s the response:

Greater Wellington Regional Council (GW) has had a strong and evolving relationship with its mana whenua partners for the past 25 years. The Wellington Regional Biodiversity Framework (WRBF) project has been established within the context of this longstanding relationship.

 The Local Government Act 2002 and Resource Management Act 1991 are the primary pieces of legislation that guide our relationships with Māori but there are over 20 other statutes that place obligations on GW in relation to Māori.

In 1993 GW formalised a Charter of Understanding with its six mana whenua iwi partners in the region. GW and iwi built on this in 2000 with a Memorandum of Understanding which the partners reviewed and signed again as the 2013 Memorandum of Partnership – available here on GW’s website. These documents record how the relationship would operate between the parties (see Appendix 1 of the 2013 Memorandum of Partnership).

Within this relationship GW has committed to proactively partnering with mana whenua in areas of mutual interest. This often requires innovative approaches that reflect co-management principles as the relationship continues to evolve.

In the WRBF project, GW has committed to a mana whenua partnership approach to leading the non-statutory working group that is being established to carry out the project. This has been done to ensure that mātauranga Māori can be woven with a science-based approach to achieve a greater understanding of biodiversity priorities and solutions.

This approach to environmental management draws on the precedent set by the collaborative processes used to develop the Proposed Natural Resources Plan (PNRP) for the Wellington Region and the two Whaitua committee processes for the Ruamāhanga and the Porirua catchments. The PNRP also includes sections that identify the statutory acknowledgements and the sites of significance of mana whenua across the region that GW has obligations for in planning to improve environment outcomes.

The WRBF is, however, different from the PNRP process in that is does not report to a Council committee. Its focus will be on improving how current operational and community efforts to protect biodiversity can be better connected and improved. The Terms of Reference for the project is the key document that explains the intended structure and function of the Collaborative Working Group for the WRBF. The Terms of Reference have been approved at the executive level but have not been considered by the Council or its committees.

A check with the council website shows the Natural Resources Plan is produced by the regional council in accordance with the Resource Management Act 1991. It sets out the objectives, policies and methods for people and organisations that use the region’s resources for a variety of purposes.

The Wellington Regional Biodiversity Framework involves a partnership between Greater Wellington Regional Council, mana whenua partners, the Department of Conservation, local authorities, community groups and relevant non-government organisations , and industry groups.

But public money is being spent on this programme and it would be nice to think the working group which will inform the framework is answerable in some way to elected representatives of the taxpayer and/or ratepayer.


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