Part 2: What we found

Regional councils’ relationships with iwi and hapu for freshwater management – a follow-up report.

Since our 2019 report, each of the four regional councils has carried out work to further understand iwi and hapū aspirations for managing freshwater. All four councils are working with iwi and hapū to develop freshwater plan updates as part of their work towards the NPS-FM.

Each council has also taken steps to involve tangata whenua in its formal governance structures. This includes providing for tangata whenua representation on key council committees for strategy and/or planning, which both have connections to freshwater policy.

Council staff who we spoke with were committed to working with iwi and hapū to improve freshwater quality. However, each council faces different challenges. The different regions vary in their geographical extent, their topography, the size and quality of their freshwater catchments,10 the number of iwi and hapū in their region, the amount of progress towards Treaty settlements, and existing arrangements for managing freshwater.

All these factors influence how councils, iwi, and hapū work together. Despite this, all four councils share an appreciation of the importance and value of their relationships with iwi and hapū for making progress on managing freshwater.

Many of the iwi and hapū representatives we spoke with highlighted the growing strength of their relationships with their respective regional councils and their trust and confidence in council staff. However, some also told us that regional councils could still do more to support more enduring and meaningful relationships.

In our view, regional councils need to take a more strategic approach to building relationships with iwi and hapū that will support effective freshwater management. A more strategic approach should focus on shared long-term goals for freshwater management; a common understanding of each other's interests in, and concerns for, freshwater; appropriate structures for the council to hear and respond to iwi and hapū voices; and effective processes for sharing information. Working with iwi and hapū in this way should be a core capability for councils, as it is critical to good environmental planning, and a range of other responsibilities of regional councils.

A more strategic approach will allow councils to better prioritise and manage freshwater projects in ways that benefit everyone.

This includes being willing to adapt to fit the circumstances of different iwi and hapū and avoid engagements feeling transactional. This will support regional councils to meet their statutory requirements to work with tangata whenua while sustaining and strengthening relationships.

We found that all four regional councils had good intent and had made progress in their relationships with iwi and hapū. Where there are effective relationships, iwi, hapū, and the council learn from each other, build their capabilities, and work towards positive freshwater outcomes that reflect the broad needs of everyone in the community.

At times, regional councils, iwi, and hapū will have different or competing views on managing freshwater. When council staff, iwi, and hapū know each other well, relationships will be more resilient and people will be better able to work constructively through disagreement.

Our findings highlight what is needed to strengthen relationships and build trust and confidence. We acknowledge what the four regional councils have done since our 2019 report and that each council faces unique challenges in building enduring and meaningful relationships with iwi and hapū. We discuss each of the four regions individually in subsequent parts of this report.

Regional councils getting to know individual iwi and hapū creates the foundation for meaningful relationships

The foundation for relationships to grow is set when regional council staff understand each iwi and hapū in their region and how they prefer to work. Trust and confidence can be built when iwi and hapū see that regional councils are committed to learning about their unique perspectives, including their histories and the ways they work.

Invest time in learning about iwi, hapū, and their histories

Iwi and hapū representatives told us that meaningful relationships involve knowing people and feeling that they have a relationship with them, as well as understanding their position or role within the organisation.

This could mean being able to pick up the phone to get a quick answer from a familiar council contact, feeling comfortable to drop in at council or iwi offices for a cup of tea, or going the extra mile to give personal support to a staff member at a difficult time. In one example, we heard that the relationship between an iwi and regional council was built on strong personal connections like these, that had developed over a long time.

Iwi and hapū told us about the importance of being able to spend time with council staff. Some iwi and hapū representatives invest time with council staff to support them to better understand iwi and hapū histories and values more generally. These representatives saw these engagements as opportunities to lift the council's capability and as a way to build trust between council members, staff, iwi, and hapū. Some of the iwi representatives we spoke with were interested in regularly setting aside time for whakawhanaungatanga with the council to maintain relationships, meet new staff, and talk about long-term aspirations.

However, we also heard frustration from iwi and hapū about some councils' staff's level of understanding, particularly where there was significant staff turnover. Some iwi and hapū felt that they had to explain their perspectives and values every time the council wanted to engage. In one instance, this was described as "an expectation that iwi would deliver ‘Treaty 101' workshops" at every hui. Iwi representatives felt that needing to do this repeatedly wasted time that should be used to work together on managing freshwater.

Some councils are investing in the capability of their staff to better engage with and understand the views of iwi and hapū. For example, one council has developed a series of workshops that include visits to sites of significant cultural importance to iwi and hapū. It is offering this to staff throughout the organisation progressively. To date, feedback from staff has been positive, with comments focusing on how enriching staff had found the opportunities.

In our view, this kind of capability work can help reduce the burden that iwi and hapū feel to educate council staff about their iwi or hapū.

Understand how iwi and hapū operate and want to work

We heard that iwi and hapū approaches to making decisions can vary and that this has implications for how regional councils engage with them. Regional councils need to understand these different approaches and plan appropriate time and resources to allow for iwi and hapū representatives to seek input to form their views or make decisions.

For example, some iwi representatives felt that councils, in their planning, were not allowing appropriate time to engage with them on resource consent applications. Delays to iwi and hapū receiving resource consent applications can create the perception that it is iwi holding up the process.

It is also important for regional councils to take the time to make sure they understand who iwi and hapū representatives can speak on behalf of. This ensures that the council engages with the right people. We heard examples of councils engaging with iwi representatives on particular projects when it would have been more appropriate to engage with particular hapū. Not only does this waste time but this lack of understanding of who to talk to also makes it harder for iwi and hapū to have confidence in the council's processes.

We also heard of times when a regional council's approach to involving iwi and hapū was at odds with how iwi and hapū wanted to work. For example, some regional councils use collective consultation processes to bring together the views of tangata whenua from throughout the region. However, we heard that iwi prefer to be engaged independently, so that their distinct perspectives can be heard. This is particularly important where there are joint management agreements (or other arrangements) that have been secured through Treaty settlements.

Regional councils also need to understand who is best placed at the council to work with iwi and hapū so that relationships are meaningful. Some of the regional councils have specific roles to support their relationships with iwi and hapū, and many council staff, iwi, and hapū felt that these roles help ensure that tangata whenua perspectives feature more prominently in the council's thinking. We heard that iwi and hapū trust these staff to understand and reflect their views and that these roles can open doors to collaborative working and support better processes for councils to work with iwi and hapū.

However, at times, there is a tendency for regional councils to rely on these staff to manage all their relationships with iwi and hapū.11 Not only is this a large workload for an individual staff member (or a small group of staff) but, in some instances, iwi and hapū also want to be able to engage and build relationships with staff from other teams, such as staff in freshwater monitoring or resource consent.

Responding to individual iwi and hapū views on freshwater supports more effective freshwater management

Regional councils need to understand and respond to the views of iwi and hapū on managing freshwater to build trust and ensure that their relationships are meaningful. We saw evidence that freshwater management is more effective when it is driven by local knowledge and appropriately resourced.

Regional councils need to be able to support iwi and hapū to have enough time and resources to develop and share their views on, and aspirations for, managing freshwater. The NPS-FM requires regional councils to work with tangata whenua to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai. As a result, many iwi and hapū representatives we spoke with had been involved in work with regional councils to share their views on Te Mana o te Wai.

We heard that some limited funding was provided through the Ministry for the Environment to support iwi engagement in Te Mana o te Wai. In some instances, this funding was helpful in developing the statements of iwi and hapū values that underpin Te Mana o te Wai. We also heard that some iwi had to compete with other iwi for this limited funding. As a result, some iwi did not get funding and had fewer resources for developing their values and working with councils.

In one example, a regional council engaged with an iwi early to develop its Te Mana o te Wai values. The council and iwi worked together to weave these values into the regional values underpinning freshwater management that the council had developed with the community. Early engagement enabled robust discussions and built trust between the regional council and iwi.

We also heard that understanding iwi and hapū views and aspirations can help councils to better respond to the tikanga and mātauranga that shape iwi and hapū approaches to managing freshwater.

In one example, an iwi took over the defishing of a river after the council's approach, which used an electric shock treatment, had killed a large tuna. The iwi removed the remaining fish by hand, demonstrating how their approach to defishing was safer for the fish and better for the health of the river.12 The iwi told us that it now leads more of the regional council projects in its rohe.

A consistent frustration from iwi and hapū was that regional council staff didn't understand their views on managing freshwater. Iwi and hapū representatives sometimes felt that council staff view freshwater as a commodity and that when developing initiatives they do not use existing knowledge and documents, such as management plans, that outline iwi and hapū aspirations and values for managing freshwater.

For example, some iwi and hapū representatives we spoke with explained how the concept of awa tūpuna means that river catchments cannot be easily grouped with other waterways into a freshwater management unit.13

One person we spoke with told us a more diversified system of river management would reflect the distinct identities of three water catchments whose different land uses, such as forestry or farming, affect freshwater quality differently.

Mutually beneficial relationships lay the foundations for effective long-term strategic freshwater management

Relationships that are mutually beneficial lead to more effective freshwater management. Not only does this support regional councils to meet their statutory requirements but it can have wider and long-term benefits for other work.

For iwi and hapū, we heard that there are mutual benefits in the way they work with regional councils on decision-making for resource consent applications or monitoring freshwater quality. Iwi and hapū see this work as valuable because it is more aligned with the way iwi work. For example, it can involve iwi and hapū working with council staff in their rohe, with their awa, directly in the place where freshwater outcomes are being sought.

These relationships also allow iwi and hapū to learn from the approaches that councils' scientific teams use, develop their understanding of council processes, and provide access to council equipment, information, and expertise to support their activities.

This can create the building blocks for more enduring relationships between the regional council, iwi, and hapū. However, we consider that councils do not always see the connection between this type of work and their engagements with iwi and hapū in other areas, such as consulting on regional plan updates.

In our view, iwi and hapū and regional councils will see greater benefit from their relationships if councils can integrate their engagement with iwi and hapū across different areas of their work.

By better integrating how different teams and areas of their work engage with iwi and hapū a wider range of staff can deepen their understanding of tikanga and mātauranga Māori about managing freshwater, and more generally, because of the time they spend working with iwi and hapū.

We saw examples where partnerships led to improvements in managing freshwater for the community. Reported benefits realised from co-governing a water catchment in one region included reducing contaminants flowing into the water, creating jobs, and developing mahinga kai for the iwi,14 as well as building knowledge and resources for farmers to reduce their business risk from future environmental regulations.

This had built trust between those in the farming sector and the iwi more generally, leading to the development of further initiatives to manage freshwater.

We also saw how mutually beneficial relationships can solve long-term issues in managing freshwater, such as workforce capacity issues. For example, we heard that collaboration with a council on monitoring work had led to increased education opportunities for young Māori, exposing them to potential careers in science and environmental management, and developing their practical and team-working skills. Some people felt that engaging with council scientific staff in the field (that is, in rivers and wetlands) is a valuable way of exploring the relationships between western science and mātauranga Māori for monitoring and managing water quality.

10: A catchment, or whaitua, is an area of land where rain flows into a common river, lake, or other body of water.

11: This is similar to what we observed in other government initiatives in a recent performance audit. See Controller and Auditor-General (2023), Four initiatives supporting improved outcomes for Māori, at

12: Defishing ensures that freshwater species that would be affected by construction on a waterway are relocated to another habitat before construction begins.

13: Awa tūpuna or awa tīpuna was explained to us as the ancestral connections that iwi and hapū have to waterways. For example, the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Act 2010 states that, to Waikato Tainui, the Waikato River is a tupuna that has mana and in turn represents the mana and mauri of the iwi. A freshwater management unit is a spatial area that includes a water body or multiple water bodies and catchments. They are intended to be the framework for freshwater planning and should be at a scale – deemed by the regional council – where freshwater can be appropriately cared for and give effect to Te Mana o te Wai.

14: Mahinga kai generally refers to freshwater species that have traditionally been used as food, tools, or other resources. Their presence indicates the overall health of the water. It also refers to the places those species are found and to the act of catching them.