Part 3: Having a shared understanding of purpose

Principles for effectively co-governing natural resources.

In this Part, we discuss how parties:

Summary of what we learned about shared understanding of purpose

Parties need a shared understanding about the purpose of co-governance, including understanding each other's objectives or aspirations. The aspirations and circumstances of parties can change, so people should periodically review the project to ensure that their approach stays in line with the purpose and continues to meet the parties' needs.

Understanding each party's objectives or aspirations

We identified that a key principle in setting up and maintaining co-governance is that the parties need to build and maintain a shared understanding about what they are trying to achieve. To build a shared understanding of the purpose, the parties need to understand each other's objectives or aspirations, which will help them to work together to achieve a shared outcome.

In 2011, Local Government New Zealand identified "common objectives" for parties when setting up local arrangements.1 We heard similar statements when parties were referring to their aspirations. In paragraphs 3.5-3.29, we discuss these common objectives, central government objectives, iwi aspirations, and local government objectives.

Common objectives

For all parties, including community and industry groups, co-governance provides new ways of managing a resource to:

  • achieve conservation or environmental outcomes;
  • build a relationship and understanding of each other; and
  • reduce the number of incidents where parties feel the need to use the courts to achieve their purposes.

In 2010, commissioners replaced Canterbury Regional Council's councillors. The Minister for the Environment, in his letter of expectation to the commissioners, stated that they had to improve their relationship with Ngāi Tahu. Therefore, the commissioners wanted an arrangement that recognised the environmental imperative for fixing Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora, while building and strengthening a relationship between Canterbury Regional Council and Ngāi Tahu. They were determined to form and maintain a good relationship.

One dairy industry representative commented on how the Waikato River Authority had helped to bring industry partnerships and interests together:

[Industry members] have a group called the Waikato Dairy Leaders Group. It involves the chairs of the milk companies in the Waikato and the president of Waikato Federated Farmers, and Fonterra. We are interacting with the Waikato River Authority, it's about how dairy interacts with policy-makers around the [Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change]. In the past, there has been an "us and them" tension. But now we have lots more interaction and are working in partnership … anything is better than fighting in the Environment Court.

Saving money by avoiding litigation

Several of the projects highlighted how forming good relationships between the parties can reduce the need to go to the courts. Of course, there are some instances when seeking direction from the courts is the most appropriate vehicle to help resolve a problem between parties.

There was one example with the Maungatautari project where an aggrieved party had sought redress in the courts. The issues that caused this action were about securing public access across privately owned land, resource consent requirements to permit tourism activities on rural land, and the need for a concession to run a tourism business within the Scenic Reserve.

Although the option of going to court is available to all parties, ideally people would not resort to litigation against one another before other avenues have been tried.

The parties to the Te Waihora Co-Governance Agreement noted that one benefit of their relationship was less litigation between Ngāi Tahu and the territorial authorities. Similarly, one person involved with the Te Arawa lakes told us that one of the benefits of parties working more closely together in the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme was not ending up in the Environment Court.

Several people commented on the costs of litigation as opposed to the cost of setting up and maintaining co-governance arrangements. One participant commented on how expensive it can be if parties end up in court, and the antagonism created within the community. They also commented that some people had the perception that co-governance created too much transactional friction and cost. However, they believed that the true cost of not involving people was that parties were often in court.

Prior to that, it was "see you in court." … [The] previous council probably saw us more in court than outside … [and] once you cost it out, it could be poverty inducing.

Central government objectives

The three main government departments involved in setting up co-governance arrangements are the Office of Treaty Settlements, Ministry for the Environment, and the Department of Conservation. Although central government objectives for a natural resource will be particular to that resource, we summarise the broad objectives of each of these government departments below.

The Office of Treaty Settlements

Some of the examples of co-governance we looked at were set up under Treaty of Waitangi settlements. The Office of Treaty Settlements leads the settlement of historical Treaty of Waitangi claims and seeks to build positive relationships between the Crown and Māori. Some Treaty settlements provide for the involvement of iwi in decision-making about natural resources. This is a type of cultural redress that acknowledges Māori interests and values in natural resources, and is in contrast to economic redress. The Office works with the relevant Minister and agency with authority over the resource in question, such as the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation.

The negotiations are informed by a set of guidelines that Cabinet approved in 2010. Under these guidelines, any arrangement for involving iwi should:

  • provide an effective role for iwi in managing natural resources;
  • lead to good environmental, economic, social and cultural outcomes for iwi and other New Zealanders;
  • address matters giving rise to the claim but not create new injustices;
  • be well designed, simple, transparent, and affordable; and
  • result in durable settlement of the claim.

The Ministry for the Environment

The Ministry for the Environment has been supporting collaborative governance and collective action for nearly a decade. Arrangements such as the Land and Water Forum can help the Government to prepare policy. Other arrangements can help with governance. The Ministry considers that collaborative governance and collective action are ways in which a group of stakeholders, with often differing values and interests, can agree and follow rules to manage a shared natural resource:

Collaborative governance and collective action can help government and stakeholders deal with complexity, build trust and reduce conflict related to managing shared natural resources. This may help achieve sustainable management of the resources in the long term.2

The Ministry also considers itself to have a significant and growing role in negotiating and putting into effect Treaty of Waitangi claims settlements. The Ministry noted that virtually all Treaty of Waitangi claims settlements now have some natural resource component, which may include provisions for co-management or joint-management involving both local authorities and iwi. To help to achieve its Treaty of Waitangi commitments, the Ministry helps the Office of Treaty Settlements to negotiate natural resources arrangements and relationship agreements with iwi/hapū.

In May 2014, the Ministry noted that it had obligations that created an ongoing relationship with 27 groups of Māori who had Treaty settlements with the Crown and that these relationship agreements were increasing in number and scope.

The Ministry encourages local authorities to engage with people, including with iwi and hapū, early in the Resource Management Act 1991 plan-making process to minimise tensions created by competing values, and in the interests of robust and durable plans. The Ministry also provides funding to get communities involved in practical environmental initiatives and resource management processes.

Also, in 2011, the Government established a $15 million fund administered by the Ministry to contribute to community efforts to tackle polluted lakes and rivers. The Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund provided regional councils and their project partners with financial help to improve water bodies of national significance. Projects to receive funding included Te Waihora and Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes (see Appendices 3 and 4).

The Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation's outcome statement is:

New Zealanders gain environmental, social and economic benefits from healthy functioning ecosystems, from recreation opportunities and from living our history.3

The Department of Conservation works towards the outcome statement through five intermediate outcomes that express the results that it is seeking to achieve in the medium term through its interventions. The five outcomes are:

  • The diversity of our natural heritage is maintained and restored.
  • Our history is brought to life and protected.
  • New Zealanders and our visitors are enriched by outdoor experiences.
  • New Zealanders connect and contribute to conservation.
  • Every business fosters conservation for this and future generations.4

The outcomes include a 10-year goal that:

Whānau, hapū and iwi are able to practise their responsibilities as kaitiaki of natural and cultural resources on public conservation lands and waters.5

The Department of Conservation has had a central role in setting up many of the collaborative arrangements for public conservation land and land transferred to iwi subject to conservation legislation. It has entered into more than 40 conservation protocols, accords, relationship agreements, and memorandums of understanding with iwi as Treaty settlement redress or in line with its statutory obligation under section 4 of the Conservation Act 1987 to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Agreements may also be negotiated and put into effect with communities and businesses. The Department of Conservation makes clear that any agreement involving conservation lands and waters must enhance conservation. The relationships developed through these agreements "should be based on mutual good faith, cooperation and respect".6

The Department of Conservation also administers the Reserves Act 1977. All Treaty settlement negotiations over reserves – for example, the Parakai Recreation Reserve and the Tūpuna Maunga (ancestral mountains) – have involved the Department.

Iwi aspirations

For iwi, co-governance can provide an opportunity to exercise their rangatiratanga, including:

  • to regain or restore mana (which includes recognising the historical and cultural importance of the resource to iwi);
  • to actively exercise their responsibilities of kaitiakitanga; and
  • for some iwi, to encourage economic development.

Also, for some iwi, such as Ngāi Tahu and Te Arawa, co-governance provides the opportunity to recognise their respective ownership of Te Waihora and Te Arawa lake beds and the customary rights and responsibilities that go with that.

For Te Arawa, recognition of the iwi's traditional relationship is expressed in the relevant Treaty of Waitangi claims settlement legislation. This states that the purpose of the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group is:

… to contribute to the promotion of the sustainable management of the Rotorua lakes and their catchments, for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations, while recognising and providing for the traditional relationship of Te Arawa with their ancestral lakes.

To ensure that the clarity of purpose is maintained, this expression is repeated almost word for word in other strategic documents, such as the Vision and Strategy for the Lakes of the Rotorua district.7

The objectives of the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority include giving visibility to the mana whenua world view, and their associations and connections with the maunga, through shared decision-making. The role and visibility of mana whenua is central to the discussions and outcomes the Authority is trying to achieve.

Several parties told us that they were considering how the natural resource could provide tourism earnings (see paragraph 6.17).

Local authorities' objectives

For local authorities, these arrangements provide an opportunity to encourage participation and involvement in decision-making, including by iwi, and can help in fulfilling responsibilities under the Resource Management Act 1991 and Local Government Act 2002 and in operating under the Reserves Act 1977.

For example, the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group began as a joint committee under the Local Government Act as a way of working together to preserve and protect the Rotorua lakes and their catchments.

The Mauao Historic Reserve Vesting Act 2008 vested ownership of the Mauao reserve in the Mauao Trust (representing three of the iwi in Tauranga). Under that Act, Tauranga City Council continued as the administering body of the reserve. In 2012, the Mauao Trust presented the iwi's aspirations for involvement in the administration of Mauao to the Council. The Council unanimously supported this aspiration and a Memorandum of Understanding was prepared to share the responsibility for administration with a joint administration board – Ngā Poutiriao o Mauao.

In the Maungatautari project, Waipa District Council set up an advisory committee that represents a balance of iwi and community interests, to ensure that the parties can share, understand, and develop common objectives. The Council has also contracted the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust to help deliver the legislative outcomes for scenic reserves.

One regional council representative told us that its elected members and staff consider working with iwi on natural resources to be business as usual.

Regularly reviewing co-governance arrangements

The aspirations of parties involved in co-governing and the circumstances of the project can change. Parties should periodically review their arrangement, either formally or informally, to ensure that their approach continues to meet the parties' needs and stays in line with the purpose for which the co-governance arrangement was set up. In some instances, it will be possible or desirable for the partners to review the purpose of their arrangement.8

Before 2010, the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust project was not meeting the aspirations of mana whenua. The parties reviewed and made changes to what they were trying to achieve. The parties feel that the co-governance arrangement put in place since then works well (see Figure 3).

Figure 3
How co-governance has helped the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust

One of the purposes set out in the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust deed is for the Trustees to pay and apply the trust fund to carry out activities, including consulting with tāngata whenua - "thereby respecting their cultural interests". The deed spells out that, in achieving its charitable purposes, the Trustees shall "respect the spirit and principles of the Treaty of Waitangi".

Mana whenua had always been represented on the Trust but never felt fully involved in decision-making. Their aspirations for the mountain had not been fully recognised.

In 2009/10, iwi members' concerns led to a small group of Trustees looking at how mana whenua would be better included in the Trust's governance. The group decided that, to reflect true partnership, the board needed to have a co-governance structure and looked to the Waikato River Authority as a model. For the Trust, this meant co-chairpersons and having an equal number of iwi, community, and landowner representatives at the table.

Some members, reflecting concerns of the community, challenged the concept of co-governance. They were especially concerned because there was a Treaty of Waitangi claim on the mountain. However, in 2012, the trust deed was amended to set up a co-governance structure. Each of the three parties can have up to five representatives on the board, which is co-chaired by a mana whenua representative and a landowner representative. One of the co-chairpersons stated:
Co-governance has provided the opportunity to bring in Te Ao Māori … There is more recognition of tikanga. A more steady awareness and acceptance and trust of Māori values. Co-governance has brought it to the fore.
The Treaty settlement process also caused some confusion and concern in the community and with adjoining landowners. The parties felt that good information about the settlement process and the outcomes would have reduced these concerns. The Settlement Act transfers ownership of the reserve to Te Hapori o Maungatautari (the Maungatautari community, comprising iwi with customary interests in Maungatautari and members of the wider community connected with Maungatautari). This body is the registered proprietor but is not a legal entity. It is there to represent the interests of iwi and the community, and to help with discharging the functions of the administering body.

Waipa District Council is working to bring the parties together to clarify the respective roles and responsibilities and will retain the Maungatautari Reserve Committee. One interviewee told us:
Iwi have given considerable concessions throughout the treaty settlement process. They wanted the ancestral title recognised. Having the reserve vested in local iwi and wider community is a concession, they have less influence and control. Having a new [reserve] committee will address this a bit. Iwi haven't got a lot else out of the settlement but they are still committed to the project, and I try to remind people of this.

1: Local Government New Zealand (2011), Local Authorities and Māori: Case studies of local arrangements.

2: See ‘Collaborative governance research' on the Ministry for the Environment website at

3: Department of Conservation, Statement of Intent 2015-2019, page 4, available at

4: Department of Conservation, Statement of Intent 2015-2019, page 4, available at

5: Department of Conservation, Statement of Intent 2015-2019, page 5, available at

6: Department of Conservation (2005, amended 2007), Conservation General Policy, 2. Treaty of Waitangi Responsibilities, available at

7: Available on the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme website,

8: We note that this may be more difficult where there is a statutory purpose and a change to legislation might be required.