The PM is telling us power resides in the ownership of water assets, so we shouldn’t fret about how much muscle Maori can flex

It sounded curiously like something out of a Marxist textbook – the notion that power sits with ownership.  

The relationship between ownership and power – it seems – should be more important to us than the issue of representation in the country’s democratic institutions or the concept of one person, one vote. 

The Prime Minister might try explaining her ideas to the good people of Canterbury, after her government’s MPs enthusiastically voted in support of legislation which ends equality of suffrage in procedures for electing councillors to the Canterbury Regional Council.  All residents will get to vote for the elected councillors (so far, so good), but residents who belong to the Ngai Tahu tribe get two more councillors, appointed by tribal leaders, for reasons that boil down to ancestry.

Labour MP Rino Tirikatene, speaking during the third reading debate, said the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngai Tahu Representation) Amendment Bill was

“… about the evolution of our treaty partnership and representation of Māori, of iwi at the local government level”.

These are ominous words, portending the bill will serve as a model for other Māori tribes in their push for the so-called “Treaty partnership” to be given tangible expression in all forms of government.

Next on the Government’s agenda – aiming for 50 per cent Māori/50 per cent Crown representation – is the government’s plan to have all local authority water assets come under the administration and management of four new structures under the Three Waters programme.

A fundamental criticism is that this is undemocratic, which it palpably is.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – questioned about the highly controversial Three Waters plans when she appeared on TV One’s Q+A programme at the weekend – assured the audience that local authorities will retain ownership of their waters assets.  

The point somewhat glibly seemed to be that council ownership of those assets was a more important governance matter than the nature of democratic representation.

 Whether councils will own the assets is arguable, however.

The Taxpayers’ Union says the public law firm Franks Ogilvie, in an opinion reviewed by Gary Judd QC, lays out the extent to which the ownership claims have been “calculated to deceive Parliamentarians, and when it becomes law, to deceive New Zealanders generally”.

The opinion was released this week..

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says,

“It is clear the Government realised that they could not convince New Zealanders that handing over ownership of local assets was a good idea. So they’ve instead redefined ‘ownership’ to mean nothing, so they can promise continued community ‘ownership’ in an incredible display of contempt for the public, the truth and the law.”

The legal opinion says: 

“… councils are expressly denied the rights of possession, control, derivation of benefits, and disposition that are the defining attributes of ownership”.

But let’s get back to the Jack Tame interview and the PM’s handling of the question of democracy and equal representation.

Journalist Graham Adams has written a critique of her performance – because that’s what it was – in an article published by The  Platform headed Ardern’s train-wreck Q&A interview.

After her Q&A appearance, many viewers would have been left wondering whether the Prime Minister can’t follow an argument or whether she is simply willing to say anything to wriggle out of a tight spot.

The presenter, Jack Tame, kicked off with a quote. 

“Democracy has changed.  We are in a consensus-type democracy now We are not in a majority any more.”

Then he asked:

 Do you know who said those words?

Prime Minister:

Well, I’ve said many things over five years so I wouldn’t want necessarily to paint myself into a situation …It didn’t sound like me.

Jack Tame:

It was your Māori Development Minister.  Willie Jackson says democracy has changed; we are in a consensus-type democracy now.  We are not in a majority any more.  Do you agree with that?

Prime Minister:

Well, I would argue that consensus and majority … aren’t we driving therefore for the same things.

And of course, the emphasis there is not in any way questioning the importance of democracy in that proposition either.

Jack Tame:

He is saying it’s a consensus-type democracy, not a majority-type democracy.

Prime Minister:

Well, again he is also …   democracy is democracy, Jack.

That’s not under-valuing the role that individuals have to have their voice expressed, their voice recorded, and ensure that it has influence,  If this is an argument somehow that the things that we are doing are not continuing to drive towards bringing people together in our democracy  – to drive consensus – that’s something I stand by

Jack Tame:

So, is the government structure for the regional representative groups under Three Waters strictly a one person one vote democracy?

Prime Minister:

The idea that any governance board where actually most of the time they do work to consensus – if you are arguing here that this is giving Māori veto rights, I would argue against it.

Jack Tame:

That’s not what I am arguing. I am asking you if it is a one-person-one-vote democracy, the way those boards are structured at the moment.

Prime Minister:

Yes.  If you are suggesting that we are undermining democracy…

Jack Tame:

That’s not what I am suggesting. I am asking if it’s a …  

[An interjection by the Prime Minister here was unclear]

Jack Tame:

It is an important question. You have just said democracy is democracy….

Prime Minister:


Jack Tame:

And by most people’s definition of democracy, one person one vote, so I want to know that under those regional representative groups – if you and I as pakeha people have the same level of representation guaranteed as Māori people

Prime Minister:

Oh, well again this is where I would argue this is such an overly simplistic response here to what is…

  Jack Tame:

It’s a very simple question that you can answer.

Prime Minister:

Well  Jack, here is  where I would argue we have had this model of running entities for some time. The Waikato River Authority structure – a number of different council structures.

Jack Tame:

Not when it comes to the delivery of public services, though  Those are quite different.

Prime Minister:

If I may, though, the reason I am arguing it is simplistic is because the ownership of these entities sits with local bodies and government, so it is not changing the ownership structures – it is not changing any issues around… 

Jack Tame:

… It is changing the representation  It’s an important distinction.

Prime Minister:

No, here again – this is where  I …

Jack Tame:

If everyone has ownership of these assets, why isn’t everyone represented in the same way when it comes to those [unclear] ?

Prime Minister:

 Well, actually, local government maintain the ownership.  They are the ones with the public share…

Jack Tame:

I am not asking you about the ownership  I am asking you about the representation on those boards.

Prime Minister:

And with these regional representative boards, yes, we have mana whenua represented and local government represented.  But the ownership rights continue to sit with local government and with those local councils.

Jack Tame:

You still haven’t answered that …

Prime Minister:

Well, I think it’s again because I don’t know that your question really is getting to the heart of the issue here. Many people believe that what is happening simply by the representation on these groups which essentially are trying to draw together those across the region of course who have an interest in the good governance of water to come together- mana whenua and local government – to, if I may, set the statement of intent and appoint the board who run the bodies day to day.  The ownership sits with local councils…

Jack Tame:

I understand.  I’m not asking about ownership; I’m asking about representation and that’s what it comes down to… when it comes to the representation on these boards  the truth is the structure  at the moment – some would argue – gives Māori disproportionate power.  That’s the …

Prime Minister:

The reason I’m coming back to ownership is for most people – power sits with ownership and ownership sits with local government.


Jack Tame moved on to other topics.

We are left to wonder about how much power does sit with local government, in light of the aforementioned legal opinion from Franks, Ogilvie.  

And we note the PM’s strong disinclination to say whether pakeha people will have the same level of representation guaranteed on the Three Waters bodies as Māori people


6 thoughts on “The PM is telling us power resides in the ownership of water assets, so we shouldn’t fret about how much muscle Maori can flex

  1. The PM appears as an argumentative nincompoop. How did she ever get in the position of cedingpower to Nanaia Mahuta? What was the consideration for it?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ardern’s lies are becoming increasingly twisted and grotesque. Under 3 Waters Councils lose all the rights and benefits associated with “‘ownership”, the “shareholdings” are a work of fiction. Furthermore only “Mana Whenua” (whoever the hell they are) can issue binding directives to Water Services Entities through “Te Mana O Te Wai” statements which only Maori are allowed to formulate. The rest of the community is effectively shut out from the management of water in their district.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When Ngai Tahu made submissions on the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngai Tahu Representation) Bill, their advocate said that only two Ngai Tahu representatives on the Regional Council is the first step. “In the future we are talking co-government”. Could their ambitions be any clearer than that ?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How ridiculous. We may still own the assets but will have almost no say over them. How’s that meant to make sense.


  5. Three waters is just one small part of the overall agenda,
    The true agenda as Adern has boasted of is the installation of
    He puapua by stealth.
    One step at a time, three waters, and The ngai Tahu representation bill are just the beginning.
    Dame Anne salmonds articles
    On iwi vs kiwi, and three waters, should be compulsory reading for every politician of all parties..
    Perhaps then the ridiculous interpretations of te tiriti by some of our pollies and legal fraternity might be brought back into line with the true original intent of the tiriti, not the mistaken pakeha based legal definitions handed down in the 1980s.

    Liked by 1 person

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