Part 4: Taranaki 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 and hapū representatives in Taranaki told us that they respected Taranaki Regional Council's staff and appreciated that staff make a genuine effort to work with them on freshwater. However, there was frustration at the "one way" and "transactional" nature of the relationship.

Since 2019, Taranaki Regional Council has shifted its approach to engaging with iwi and hapū. We heard that the Council is moving away from consultation and towards collaboration in its work with iwi and hapū. This was particularly evident in the Council's agreement with Ngā Iwi o Taranaki for resourcing and completing the review of its regional freshwater policy.

In our view, Taranaki Regional Council has improved its approach to bringing iwi and hapū aspirations into freshwater planning. Leaders of the region's eight iwi and senior staff at the Council have increased the frequency of engagement. In other areas, such as work on freshwater monitoring, we saw some improvements in the trust and confidence iwi and hapū have in their relationships with the Council.

The Council's commitment to building its mātauranga Māori knowledge and capability, including appointing a mātauranga Māori science advisor, has played a particularly important role in supporting iwi and hapū in their freshwater work. It has also helped to improve the Council's approach to monitoring freshwater quality. Integrating and aligning the Council's approach to freshwater management with mātauranga Māori provides a strong foundation for its work with iwi and hapū.

However, the Council still needs to do more to develop a strategic approach to building relationships. In our view, there are opportunities for the Council to draw on the strong relationships some of its staff have when developing a council-wide approach to working with iwi and hapū on freshwater. This will enable the Council to better respond to iwi and hapū views on, and aspirations for, freshwater. Less reliance on a small group of council staff to maintain relationships will also support more enduring engagement.

Changes to freshwater management in Taranaki since 2019

Recent Treaty settlements have introduced new mechanisms for Taranaki Regional Council to work with iwi and hapū

In September 2023, Ngā Iwi o Taranaki and the Crown signed Te Ruruku Pūtakerongo – the Taranaki Maunga Collective Redress Deed. Ngā Iwi o Taranaki is the collective name for eight iwi of Taranaki: Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga, Taranaki Iwi, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Maru, Ngāruahine, Ngāti Ruanui, and Ngaa Rauru Kiitahi. Taranaki Maunga and the National Park were vested in a legal person, named Te Kāhui Tupua. A representative entity of Crown and iwi appointees will be set up to act in the best interests of Te Kāhui Tupua.

The Ngāti Maru (Taranaki) Settlement Act 2022 requires Taranaki Regional Council to have a joint management agreement with Ngāti Maru.

The Maniapoto Claims Settlement Act 2022 requires Taranaki Regional Council to have a joint management agreement with Te Nehenehenui – the post-settlement governance entity of Ngāti Maniapoto.

Taranaki Regional Council and Ngā Iwi o Taranaki have entered into an agreement to carry out the freshwater policy review for the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

Taranaki Regional Council entered into an agreement with Te Runanga o Ngāti Tama, Te Runanga o Ngāti Mutunga, Te Kāhui Maru, Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa, Te Kāhui o Taranaki Iwi, Te Korowai o Ngāruahine, Te Runanga o Ngāti Ruanui, and Te Kāhui o Rauru to carry out the freshwater policy review for the Taranaki region.

The agreement was intended to assist with resourcing to meet the obligation for the Council to complete the review by 31 December 2024.16 The agreement set up an independent environmental unit that includes two full-time positions to carry out the review, funded by the Council. The iwi parties appointed these positions, and Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa provides administrative support for the unit.

The Council and iwi partners review the agreement's deliverables and outcomes every six months.

Taranaki Regional Council is focused on working with iwi and hapū more collaboratively

Council staff told us that they consider that the foundations for positive relationships with iwi and hapū in the region are now in place. In their view, relationships between the Council, iwi, and hapū are healthier than they have ever been.

The recently set up senior-level governance group brings together chief executives of Ngā Iwi o Taranaki and senior council members to discuss freshwater and facilitate the process for updating the regional freshwater plan. The group has helped to build connections between iwi leaders and senior council staff.

We heard that Taranaki Regional Council is trying to take a more strategic approach to some aspects of the way it engages with iwi. For example, it is mindful of how challenging working with councils on issues such as freshwater can be for iwi, particularly when an iwi rohe spans more than one regional council boundary. Taranaki Regional Council is talking to other regional councils about working together more effectively for the benefit of those iwi.

The Council wants to form relationships that have long-term benefits for the Council, iwi, and hapū. It recognises that there is some way to go. Translating existing strong relationships between the Council, iwi, and hapū in specific areas to wider, lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships across a range of areas is a challenge. As with the other regional councils, limited council and iwi resources and high rates of staff turnover at the Council are persistent issues.

We heard about the challenge of integrating western scientific approaches to monitoring freshwater with mātauranga Māori. The Council acknowledged that there is still a tendency for the Council, iwi, and hapū to "talk past" each other. Council staff told us that a recent approach to studying eels and lamprey in the Waitara River helped to bring the different perspectives together and proved to be a very fruitful way of working for the Council and the hapū involved.

Council representatives were aware that some iwi prefer the Council to be engaging at the hapū level. They recognised that their engagement with hapū is currently not as strong as they would like. Council relationships with hapū generally focus on the day-to-day management of the resource consenting process rather than on processes for developing policy.

When we carried out our work, council staff told us that the pressure of the NPS-FM deadline had not been conducive to building long-term relationships.17 In the Council's view discussions focused on meeting the deadline, rather than on how to use the update of the NPS-FM plans as a vehicle for deeper conversations about relationship building. However, the Council is committed to building longer-term relationships that extend beyond individual projects.

Iwi and hapū in Taranaki want recent improvements at the Council to go further

Iwi and hapū representatives who we spoke with consider that their engagements with the Council have improved since 2019. They felt this was driven by the NPS-FM. They told us about positive changes in attitudes that council staff have towards building relationships with iwi and hapū. Examples include the Council hiring a mātauranga Māori specialist and more opportunities to work alongside council scientists on, and contribute to, monitoring freshwater.

We also heard that, since Ngā Iwi o Taranaki was set up, there has been greater engagement between senior staff in the Council and the chief executives of the post-settlement governance entities of the eight iwi.

However, iwi and hapū representatives said that they want the Council to take a collaborative approach to relationships at all levels; with iwi, hapū, and mana whenua. Some iwi and hapū still used words such as "transactional" and phrases such as "tick-box" to describe their engagements with the Council.

Some iwi and hapū representatives told us that there is a tendency for the Council to make engagement work the responsibility of a small number of Māori staff. Iwi and hapū we spoke with have built strong relationships with these staff members. However, some felt that the Council's reliance on these staff is limiting opportunities for iwi and hapū to form relationships with other specialists at the Council who have knowledge and skills that iwi and hapū could benefit from.

In our view, it is a risk to rely on a few key staff for maintaining iwi and hapū relationships. If these staff leave, the relationships they have built for the Council with iwi and hapū could be lost.

Iwi and hapū representatives want the Council to build and maintain long-lasting engagement on managing freshwater. In areas such as policy development, iwi felt that the Council still tends to wait to consult them when policy proposals are well advanced rather than involve them when there is still an opportunity to influence the policy's direction.

We also heard frustrations that council staff do not always let iwi and hapū know when they are working in their rohe, which misses opportunities for the Council, iwi, and hapū to work alongside each other. Some of those we spoke with felt that, despite the Council's greater interest in exploring mātaruanga Māori, some council staff do not understand the significance or value of it. This can be a barrier to closer working relationships.

Some iwi and hapū representatives told us that their resources are stretched but that they consider that their work on consents or freshwater monitoring could be the foundation for longer-term relationships with the Council. One person described their freshwater monitoring work as an opportunity for hapū to open the eyes of their young people to the possibilities of a career in science.

16: The agreement was made before the Government extended the deadline to update regional freshwater plans to December 2027.

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