Part 3: Waikato Regional Council's progress since 2019

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

Summary of key findings

In 2019, iwi who we spoke with in the Waikato said that their relationships with Waikato Regional Council were working well. However, representatives of iwi and hapū in the Waikato who were yet to settle Treaty claims were less positive. We encouraged the Council to continue to improve these relationships.

Although there has been significant progress in Treaty settlements for iwi and hapū in the Waikato, there are still a large number of iwi and hapū at different stages of their Treaty settlements. This has created challenges for the Council (and for some iwi and hapū) in strengthening relationships with all iwi and hapū. Council staff told us that these problems have been compounded by the significant reforms taking place in the local government sector and stretched the Council's limited resources.

Since 2019, Waikato Regional Council has continued to work with many iwi and hapū in its region to manage freshwater quality, focusing on being more agile and flexible in the way it operates. Several iwi and hapū representatives who we spoke with said that these relationships were mostly strong. However, the Council's effort still focuses on engaging with iwi and hapū to carry out specific pieces of work.

Other iwi representatives we spoke with said that their engagements with the Council needed to be more meaningful. They felt that it was not always clear how their views on, and aspirations for, managing freshwater were influencing decision-making or being embedded in policies and processes for managing freshwater. They felt that staff turnover at the Council made it hard to build enduring relationships. We heard similar concerns about turnover at the other councils.

In our view, the Council needs a more strategic approach to building relationships with iwi and hapū. Council staff need to be more responsive to the ways iwi and hapū want to work with the Council and their views on, and aspirations for, managing freshwater.

We note that Waikato Regional Council has joint management agreements for river management with several iwi who have Treaty settlements in the region. Joint management agreements can outline agreed processes for input into resource consents, water monitoring, enforcement, and policy and planning. Joint management committees usually include representatives from iwi and the regional council.

While we did not look at the effectiveness of these joint management agreements in this follow-up work specifically, in our view these committees are a significant opportunity to strengthen relationships.

The Council also needs to ensure that it prioritises appropriate resources to support a more strategic approach to relationship building.

Changes to freshwater management in the Waikato since 2019

Recent legislation sets out new freshwater management arrangements between iwi and Waikato Regional Council

The Ngāti Tūwharetoa Claims Settlement Act 2018 provided for the establishment of a statutory joint committee, Te Kōpu ā Kānapanapa. Te Kōpu ā Kānapanapa comprises members from Te Kotahitanga o Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Waikato Regional Council, and Taupō District Council.

The Maniapoto Claims Settlement Act 2022 required Waikato Regional Council, Waitomo District Council, Ōtorohanga District Council, Waikato District Council, and Waipā District Council to enter into a joint management agreement with Te Nehenehenui – Ngāti Maniapoto's post-settlement governance entity.

The Pare Hauraki Collective Redress Bill was introduced into the House in December 2022 and is still awaiting its first reading. As currently drafted, the Bill requires Waikato Regional Council to enter into a joint management agreement with the Hauraki iwi post-settlement governance entity.

Waikato Regional Council has been through a process to transfer functions to allow the Tūwharetoa Māori Trust board to take control of monitoring functions for freshwater at Lake Taupō. The power to do this is granted under the Resource Management Act.

Tūwharetoa is the first iwi to be granted these powers under the Resource Management Act. Under the new arrangement, Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board now carries out water quality monitoring functions for summer bathing, regional rivers, rainfall, and groundwater.

Waikato Regional Council has set up a tangata whenua technical group to review its freshwater policy in line with the requirements of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

Since our 2019 report, Waikato Regional Council has set up a tangata whenua forum, called Ngā Tira Mātauranga. The purpose of Ngā Tira Mātauranga is to increase the involvement of iwi, hapū, and tangata whenua in the freshwater policy review, provide a forum for technical discussion to assist council staff with developing policy, and disseminate project information to tangata whenua groups.

Ngā Tira Mātauranga comprises nominated representatives from tangata whenua entities within the Waikato region who wish to have representation at Ngā Tira Mātauranga. The work programme and terms of reference for the group incorporated tangata whenua representatives' recommendations about how the group should function.

Waikato Regional Council has also hosted open drop-in sessions for the freshwater policy review in different catchments in the region. Some tangata whenua have participated in these.

Waikato Regional Council has improved its approach to working with iwi and hapū

Council staff felt that the direction of travel in their relationships with iwi and hapū on freshwater quality management has been positive but that there is still progress to be made.

As we heard from the other regional councils, the demands on the Council to meet external deadlines makes it hard to invest the time needed to build trust with iwi and hapū in some areas. This is particularly so where the Council is forming new relationships with iwi or wanting to engage with iwi who have limited capacity and/or other priorities.

The Council is working to improve its approach to engaging with iwi and hapū. This includes contracting with individuals who have long-standing relationships with iwi and hapū to work on behalf of the Council, paying iwi and hapū for their participation in freshwater policy review work, and broadening the Council's engagement with iwi and hapū beyond post-settlement governance entities. These changes were described as the start of a "shift in mindset" within the Council to support iwi and hapū to work with the Council to achieve better freshwater outcomes.

Council staff told us that the open engagement approach with tangata whenua facilitated by Ngā Tira Mātauranga enabled the broadest range of iwi voices across the Waikato region to be included within the Council's limited resources. However, they also recognised that some iwi prefer to be engaged individually and that it was likely they would be unhappy with the process the Council took.

When we carried out our work, we heard that the deadline to update the Council's regional freshwater plan by the end of 2024 placed some iwi and hapū at a disadvantage by limiting the time and resources available for them to develop their guiding values for Te Mana o Te Wai.15

Council staff recognised that building trust with iwi and hapū takes time and commitment from all parties. Council staff we spoke with want to be able to focus on building long-term enduring relationships with iwi and hapū. However, they are conscious that most opportunities for forming relationships come from engagements on individual pieces of work and do not offer the continuity needed to build deeper trust in the relationships.

Iwi in Waikato want more meaningful and enduring relationships with the Council

Iwi and hapū representatives we spoke with felt that some relationships with council staff for working on freshwater quality are strong.

Factors in strong relationships include council staff being able to invest time in understanding the iwi, engaging with iwi over a longer period of time, and being open to working collaboratively. Iwi in these relationships said that council staff were quick to offer support when it was requested.

Iwi and hapū representatives we spoke with also spoke highly of the Council's contractors who work with iwi. However, it is a challenge for iwi to see how using contractors supports long-term relationship building with the Council. Some representatives want to work more directly with senior staff at the Council and are concerned about the loss of institutional knowledge when contractors move on.

We heard that relationships between members of the joint management committees are generally good and that the people involved are able to have difficult conversations. However, some people we spoke with are concerned that the Council has not used their respective joint management committee meetings to consult with iwi about the Council's approach to updating its regional freshwater plan in line with the NPS-FM.

We heard concerns from some iwi and hapū that their relationships with the Council had not improved as much as they had expected since our 2019 report. They felt that many engagements with the Council are "tick-box" – in that they are driven by the Council's priorities and time frames – and that it is not always clear how the Council uses their contribution. A lack of transparency about the Council's processes and decision-making creates barriers to building greater trust and confidence in the Council.

Iwi want to move forward in their relationships with the Council. However, cultural capability within the Council is a consistent issue that iwi feel is a barrier.

Some iwi felt they spend too much time educating council staff about the Treaty and/or explaining their iwi values related to freshwater. Others felt council staff might avoid engaging with iwi for fear of doing something wrong or inadvertently causing offense.

Resourcing is a significant issue for iwi when trying to engage with the Council. This means that iwi and hapū have to carefully manage their time and resources to ensure that their engagements with council are meaningful and valuable.

Iwi are sympathetic to the pressures that the Council faces. However, they told us that the views of iwi and hapū are specific and unique to their rohe and cannot quickly be aggregated into a regional tangata whenua perspective for Waikato.

Some people we spoke with felt that the Council would be in a much stronger position if it engaged with iwi individually to understand their values relating to freshwater management. This would allow the Council to understand the nuances of different iwi positions and different freshwater catchments, as well as the common points of agreement that can improve regional freshwater management.

15: Our interviews took place before the Government extended the deadline to update regional freshwater plans to December 2027.