In a poll earlier this year a definition of co-governance was put to voters to see whether they thought it was a good or bad way to define the concept.

The definition used was one put forward by the author, academic, and professor of Māori studies at Auckland University, Margaret Mutu.

Mutu helped author the controversial He Puapua report, which was commissioned by the Government in 2019. It set out to inquire into and report back on how the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which New Zealand is signed up to, could be met.

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Over June and July,The Inkling commissioned Talbot Mills Research to ask a series of online questions of just under 1100 “nationally representative respondents” aged 18 and over.

Respondents were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed co-governance, as defined by Mutu, was good or bad for New Zealand.

Mutu’s definition was put forward as: “We (Māori) make our own decisions about our own lives, the government makes its own decisions about its people’s lives, and we sit together and make decisions on matters that relate to us both.”

Ten percent strongly agreed, 19 percent agreed, 24 percent were neutral, 13 percent disagreed, 23 percent strongly disagreed and 10 percent were unsure.

Those results concluded 29 percent agreed Mutu’s definition was good for the country, and 36 percent disagreed.

Broken down further, younger respondents were more likely to agree, as were Māori and Pasifika compared with Asian and NZ Europeans.

Talbot Mills Research is also Labour’s pollster and the commissioned survey had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

Newsroom decided to find some answers of its own.

We approached all political parties in Parliament this term, and New Zealand First, which is regularly polling above five percent, to ask three questions about co-governance.

This is how they responded.

How do you define co-governance today?

Labour leader Chris Hipkins: Co-governance is about co-operation and making joint decisions where there are shared objectives. It’s akin to a joint venture or partnership, with each bringing expertise and knowledge to manage outcomes for everyone’s benefit.

National’s Māori Development spokesperson Tama Potaka: Co-governance describes a series of environmental management agreements, mostly set up under Treaty settlements, where the Crown and local government work alongside iwi in a collaborative way to look after the natural resource. Examples are the Whanganui River, Auckland maunga, Waikato River and several more, nearly all in the North Island. Most of these agreements have been reached through Treaty settlements to help settle long-standing Treaty claims, enable iwi to have more involvement in decision making over natural resources and provide better environmental outcomes for the benefit of all New Zealanders. Co-governance agreements have been around for nearly 20 years now and generally work very well.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson: Co-governance is about shared responsibility for the whenua we live and rely on, how we care for each other, and the way we make decisions to benefit everybody. When done well, it can also be seen as a way of giving effect to tino rangatiratanga within the framework of kāwanatanga, or Tiriti-based decision making. The Green Party is very clear that it’s the original commitment of Te Tiriti for tino rangatiratanga that must consistently be honoured as foundational to the constitution of Aotearoa.

Act Party leader David Seymour: The current government is presenting New Zealanders with a false choice. It says that if we want to right the wrongs of the past, cherish Māori language and culture, and give all New Zealanders equal opportunity, then we must throw out universal human rights in favour of co-government. This is not only untrue, it is also dangerous. We are told we must become a ‘Tiriti-centric’ New Zealand where there are two types of people in partnership – tangata whenua (land people) and tangata tiriti (Treaty people) – who would each have different political and legal rights. Any constitutional system that gives different people different rights is incompatible with universal human rights which are essential for peace and prosperity. Whenever people are given different legal rights, they inevitably fight to regain their rights and dignity. Act’s vision for New Zealand, in keeping with our liberal democratic traditions, commitment to universal human rights, and growing ethnic diversity, is that of a modern, multi-ethnic, liberal democracy.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer: It’s something where we have a common ground and a common desire to achieve whether as tangata whenua and tangata tiriti, or whether it’s iwi and government. It’s the best way forward. Co-governance is about a common ground and common way of achieving something that is desired by both, and again, I don’t know of a co-governance model that doesn’t have cooperation of both. It’s a common way, goal, common partners – and it’s the best of these two partners – and it will work when both want it to.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters: Co-governance in New Zealand in 2023 has descended from a concept of cooperation to one of elitism, in the name of the many, and is now based on racial privilege, something that the mass of ordinary Māori have never asked for.

What is an example of good co-governance already underway?

Labour: The Waikato River Authority continues to work well after 12 years and is a great example of what can be achieved when fear and division are not a factor. It’s a precursor of our water reforms.

National: The Waikato River Authority demonstrates constructive co-governance arrangements and experience:

· It was established after extensive engagement across multiple communities including iwi, the Crown, councils, business and communities including farmers (who have major interaction with the River).

· It emerged as part of a broader context of settlements between Waikato-Tainui and the Crown.

· There were multiple iwi who were enthusiastic around the aspirations regarding “Te Mana o te Wai” – the health and wellbeing of the water.

· Councils were not well funded to address pressing financial needs around the health and wellbeing of the River.

· There is likely to be significant productivity and environmental uplift from investing in the River now and into the future.

· It has a small, functional team engaged with and reaching multiple stakeholders.

Greens: There are so many excellent examples. The Green Party recently announced a $100 million Moana Fund for iwi and hapū to undertake coastal restoration projects around ngā motu, which drew inspiration from the Kaipara Moana Remediation project. This sort of initiative shows the potential of co-governance creating better outcomes for nature and communities.

Act: Act supports the completion of full and final historic Treaty settlements as a pragmatic way to resolve past injustices. Some of the settlements include co-management arrangements brought in before 2017, where recognised customary rights of iwi are balanced with existing public rights (such as recreational use of Crown land, fishing, etc). These co-management arrangements include the Tūpuna Maunga Authority managing Auckland’s volcanic mountains, Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes, Te Urewera, and the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River settlement). We believe these co-governance arrangements are pragmatic ways to reconcile Māori customary and public interests over traditionally shared resources such as rivers and mountains.

What Act opposes is co-government being extended from specific instances of redress into a general privilege for iwi; from recognising rangatiratanga over specific property rights to an overarching granting of privilege in all things, including political rights and the delivery of public services (or co-government).

Te Pāti Māori: I think there are great examples of co-governance. I think the maunga settlement in Taranaki has great potential where iwi are working together with the Department of Conservation and the Crown to best look after our maunga. I can see it in awa (river) in Waikato, I can see it in Tainui and they’ve all come together for the best interests of the community and without any drama. I guess the problem is, if you’re not in that circle and don’t have the common goal, it must feel like the most foreign work experience you could ever think of in your life. But it’s the way forward.

New Zealand First: There is no example of good co-governance already underway, because the original concept has morphed into racial privilege and ethnic elitism from which no good can come.

What is an example of co-governance you wouldn’t support?

Labour: My support for co-governance is well-documented. There is, however, one type of co-governance that should send a chill down the spine of New Zealanders, and should be avoided at all costs, and that is a coalition of National, Act and NZ First, which would take our country back decades.

National: We do not support the co-governance arrangements proposed with the Three Waters reforms or any extension of what is a useful, limited concept into public services generally.

Greens: We wouldn’t support governance frameworks that were represented by the Crown as being co-governance but were opposed by iwi and hapū as less than their full rights under Te Tiriti.

Act: Labour has implemented co-government arrangements across many public service provisions, such as healthcare, water management, and resource management. Act will immediately repeal the Māori Health Authority, the Natural and Built Environments Act, and Three Waters legislation. Other Acts will be amended as necessary to ensure that the essential purpose of legislation is focused on the delivery of effective government for all New Zealanders. Act in government would orientate the public service towards sophisticated use of data to identify need rather than crude race-based targeting. Trying to differentiate public services based on ethnicity is fraught. The definition of who is Māori matters. Is the target of public services anyone who can whakapapa to a Māori ancestor (and how?), or is it membership of a corporatised tribe? What of households where one person is of European ethnicity and the other is of Māori ethnicity; why should two people in identical circumstances be treated differently by the government?

Te Pāti Māori: I guess for there to be a co, there’s been a discussion that there’s a common ground. If it got to being at that discussion level it’s because parties have agreed on it. I don’t know of any that I wouldn’t support. I think partnering our way through and navigating together some of the complex issues we’ve got coming at us are better for us. We need co in justice, in education, and I just think on the other side of it there’s some things I think Māori need to be able to be left to do for ourselves. If it’s got to there being cooperation then they’ve decided it’s best for them, I may not always personally agree with different things, but it’s more important there are common goals for the players involved.

New Zealand First: Three Waters with the intent of local Iwi, having 50 percent of the vote in a 75 percent decision making requirement, meaning local iwi will have the ultimate veto on any proposal. This despite the local iwi being massively outnumbered by resident Māori from other areas, as well as all others from all other ethnic backgrounds. In the Māori world rain and water are a gift from the skies, to be shared with everyone, a highly laudable concept and belief now being trampled on by elitism and localised racial preference, regardless of what the mass of ordinary Māori think. The biggest issue in Maori electorates is the shocking cost of living, and they do not want additional water costs added to this burden, for themselves or others.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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