Shane Jones — remember him?- — has re-emerged into public life and thrown a hand grenade at the Labour government on its Three Waters policy. He has done so in a think-piece for the op-ed page in the NZ Herald at a time when the Ardern government thought it had recaptured the high ground in the nation’s politics, with its measures to take the sting out of inflation.
But Jones’ intervention has widened the battleground.
The implications, separately, are interesting. Does it foreshadow Jones, a close ally of NZ First leader Winston Peters, stepping back into politics? Could it be that Jones senses that here is the issue that could revive NZ First from its moribund state?
Of course, Jones may have compiled his explosive piece on his own initiative, but as a minister in the Labour-NZ First coalition from 2017 to 2020, he and Winston Peters always worked very closely together. It was as if they were soul-mates: each had the gift of hitting a political nerve.
This is the one Jones played on in his NZ Herald article:
“Just as there is ignorance about the exact origins of Covid, the public does not recall giving the Labour Party permission to impose its Treaty of Waitangi co-governance master plan. A dogma that thrives where visibility is weak, debates are shallow and agendas are murky. Take for example the bog known as Three Waters, a reform designed to avoid a repeat of the 2016 Havelock North drinking water crisis.
“Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has a superior agenda in mind which will be in our best interests, not only for drinking water but also storm and wastewater – providing it goes through her Treaty purification plant.The Government wants to forcibly transfer all our publicly-owned water assets into four jumbo corporations and then hand over 50 per cent control to iwi – a radical move from contaminated water to toxic politics”.
Jones goes on:
“According to the Government, this is necessary to satisfy Treaty articles of faith and accommodate the fractious iwi leaders collective, who should stick to their rūnanga knitting rather than whinging in Wellington.”
He reckons it is high time to call time on how the Treaty of Waitangi is being dragged into policy areas where it is of dubious value, alienates people, and eats away the goodwill of past decades.
And in this paragraph you hear the authentic Jones talking:
“The Māori Party boasts that when choosing who to work with in the 2023 government, it will have to be Treaty-centric. No doubt we will recognise this ego-centricity when pigs fly by. It is essential that any further extension of Treaty statutory references and co-governance agendas be subject to an electoral mandate.”
He believes it is critical that the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal be reviewed and changed.
“It is no longer fit for purpose, it indiscriminately strays into matters where it lacks competence and adds no value. Whilst the legal truffle hunters may encourage it to be expansive, it is overdue a political pruning. In 2025, which will be in the next electoral cycle, the tribunal will have existed for 50 years. Why should it still exist and for what purpose?
“Treaty co-governance is being grafted onto our political system without any public consent or informed debate. Labour did not seek the approval of the electorate in 2020 for this divisive agenda. Quite the opposite. The wellbeing statistics for whānau remain woeful but the political leadership is pitiful.
“Rather than deal to the Tribesmen gang, which now appears to own the Waikato Expressway, our Māori MPs encourage tribal ambitions to control the health system. The case for establishing a separate Māori Health Authority with budgetary veto powers has not been made. The same for the proposed Māori Education Authority.No doubt these structural changes will lead to more statutory Treaty references which then leads to more litigation whilst the gang nephews run amok”.
Jones says the pressing issues confronting the average rangatahi are very basic. Rather than tribalised Three Waters, they need three affordable staples, veges, meat and milk.
These whānau want practical results, not superficial linguistics where everything gets a Māori title but whānau circumstances don’t markedly improve.
Kāinga Ora is a case in point, where the Māori grammar is inversely related to the actual housing outcomes for Maori. Rather than indulging the Mongrel Mob tenants, put them in a tent until they learn to respect their neighbours”.
This is the passage which strikes home across the political divide:
“Tiriti co-governance is an artifice that will hobble economic activity and worsen statutory processes such as those in the Resource Management Act. A developer’s deathtrap bogged down with red-tape, surrounded by loose hapū cannons that threaten to spike economic development unless their two cents worth is handsomely paid for. Consultation is a part of democracy, however, it needs to be tightly defined and not allowed to morph into either green or brown mail”.
Jones insists The Three Waters project is doomed to fail because it is not sustainable in NZ’s democracy for a $185 billion public utility programme to be 50 per cent controlled by iwi.
“These are public assets, not tribal baubles.The current Government can shroud its agenda with artfulness but the result will be the same. Any iwi co-governance legislation it arrogantly forces through Parliament will be undone by a future government”.
Does he mean a government which has a NZ First component?
A final sentence contains a hint of what a resuscitated NZ First might do:
“Such a government should be formed on the clear basis that there will never be political privileges such as the iwi co-governance plot”.
Shane Jones, it has to be remembered, played a key role in Treaty relationships in the 1990’s particularly with the Maori fisheries settlement.
Point of Order will be keeping a close watch on whether the seeds he has planted with his Herald thinkpiece flourish—or wither on the vine.
CORRECTION: We have corrected the text to show NZ First ministers served in the coalition government from 2017 to 2020.