Earlier this month, the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Act was passed by Parliament. This act implements aspects of the agreement between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui to settle claims in relation to the Waikato River, which were explicitly excluded from Waikato-Tainui’s earlier settlement. ‘Co-management’ is a central theme of the legislation, which provides a number of significant mechanisms for the involvement of Waikato-Tainui in the management of the river.
The central body in the new co-management arrangements established by the Act will be the Waikato River Authority. The Authority is comprised of ten members – five members appointed by the Crown (including two members to be recommended by local government) and five members appointed by organizations representing iwi with interests in the river. The Authority sets the primary direction of the management of the Waikato River. This is affected through the Vision and Strategy for the Waikato River, which is set out in Schedule 2 of the Act and is to periodically reviewed by the Authority. The Vision and Strategy are central to the new framework for the environmental management of the Waikato River. Broadly, instruments that regulate the management of the river under the Resource Management Act 1991, such as regional policy statements, and regional and local plans must be made consistent with the Vision and Strategy. Any changes to conservation management strategies and plans must be accompanied by a statement on how the Vision and Strategy has been given effect to. The Act also lists a range of other situations in which the Vision and Strategy must be given particular regard. The Vision and Strategy, therefore, are important instruments in relation to the management of the river, and the Waikato River Authority is the body responsible for reviewing the Vision and Strategy and recommending amendments.
The Authority has a range of other powers and functions, including providing advice to local and central government agencies and appointing members to sit on resource consent hearing committees, but the Authority also has an important role as trustee of the Waikato River Clean-Up Trust. The object of this trust is the restoration and protection of the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River for future generations. Under the terms of the amended Deed of Settlement, the Crown will provide $21 million to the trust fund initially and then $7 million each year for 27 years. This trust will therefore be a central player in the management of the river through its role of allocating funding for restoration projects.
There are a number of other significant co-management measures in this settlement, but the final instrument that I would like to address in this post is the Integrated River Management Plan. The purpose of this plan is “to achieve an integrated approach between Waikato-Tainui, relevant departments, relevant local authorities, and appropriate agencies to the management of aquatic life, habitats, and natural resources within the Waikato River”. This plan is to be prepared jointly by Waikato-Tainui and relevant government departments and must include a conservation component, a fisheries component, and a regional council component. These various components feed into the particular planning processes that regulate each specific subject area.
Overall, this settlement represents significant potential for Waikato-Tainui to have genuine input into the management of the Waikato River. The next challenge will be for all those involved to ensure that this potential is fully realized.