Testing the Auditor-General's Office on Citizens' Water concerns

18 Jul 2018

 

A letter I emailed today to New Zealand's Assistant Auditor-General, Local Government (at andrea.reeves@oag.govt.nz), requesting their help to ensure Council accountability in relation to a community water defense matter.

 

"Tēnā koe Andrea,

 

RE: NORTHLAND REGIONAL COUNCIL ISSUING OF TEMPORARY WATER CONSENTS

As the Assistant Auditor-General, Local Government, may I please request that the Auditor-General investigate the following Northland Regional Council (NRC) matter.

 

BACKGROUND

 

Water resource consent applications

In 2016, some private business owners (including industrial horticulturalists) began applying to Northland Regional Council (NRC) for resource consents to extract water from our aquifer in Te Hiku. Together known as the Motutangi-Waiharara Water Users Group (MWWUG) they applied to pump up to 2-million-cubic-metres a year from the Aupouri aquifer, north of Kaitaia (see here for more background, including media sources).

 

Temporary water permits issued

Following MWWUG’s application, and pending NRC’s consideration of the Non-notified applications in October 2017, NRC issued temporary water permits to members of the MWWUG, for example these in December 2017:

  1. aut.039733.01.01 – Mapua Avocados Limited – temporary water take at Far North road, Motutangi/Pukenui; and 

  2. app.039737.01.01 – Largus Orchard Limited Partnership – temporary water take at Heath Road, Waiharara.

 

However, vigilant residents in the affected areas observed that the recipient MWWUG applicants of NRC’s temporary water permits were operating unlawfully. For example:

 

  • “At least five of the MWWUG had no consent at all for the groundwater they have used on their established orchards; in some cases they have been using this water illegally for many years. Such poor behaviour from members of a group that will potentially monopolize groundwater causes us to question the integrity of the group as a whole.” (ref “Letters: Guessing around groundwater bores isn't good enough”, Northland Age, 23 January 2018); and

  • Even though the applicants hadn’t yet secured their MWWUG aquifer resource consent, ''some members of the MWWUG went ahead anyway and planted avocado trees in early 2018, […] and applied to NRC for 'temporary' water consent, so that they could take water.” Then, “The council gave the growers the option of asking for interim resource consents, to legalise their unlawful water takes. Three applied and got interim consent, while two did not.” (ref “Protest urged over plan to take millions of cubic meters of water for Far North avocado expansion”, Northern Advocate, 23 March 2018).

 

Several submitters also voiced concerns about certain applicants’ unethical behaviour during the Hearing Committee’s consideration of the MWWUG applications in March 2018 (for example, as contained in a written statement by the Chair of Te Rūnanga-a-Iwi o Ngāti Kahu, condemning “the illegal take of water from the aquifer”, and calling for “Northland Regional Council […]not to issue retrospective consents, but rather to undertake retrospective prosecutions of those involved.” – ref “Documents Tabled at the HearingDocument tabled by C Murupaenga-Ikenn - Professor M Mutu (PDF, 451KB)”).

 

Over time, through conversations with other concerned citizens, I came to learn that locals had made NRC aware of such unethical behaviour to the point that NRC was forced some time prior to begin investigating allegations of certain MWWUG applicants’ misconduct.  However, NRC issued the temporary permits anyway, much to the disgust of informed citizens who saw the permits as rewarding the perpetrators’ bad behaviour.

 

Concerns conveyed to NRC re temporary permit decisions

As local tangata whenua (of Ngāti Kuri and Te Rarawa descent) having an interest in and being affected by the MWWUG application matter and NRC’s temporary water permit decisions, it was at this point that I was motivated to contact NRC. On 30 March 2018, I emailed the council my concerns and asked them to take action (see email thread below).

 

When I hadn’t received a reply by 17 April, I emailed NRC asking them to confirm the status of my request.  I was confused two days’ later when I received auto notification that my email was “deleted without being read” by an NRC staffer. Two more times after that (in May and June) I emailed requests to NRC officials to advise where my matter had gotten to. To date, I still have no reply.

 

This passive-aggressive NRC reaction on this temporary water consents matter seems to be common place, for example see attached letter to NRC from the committee of one of Ngāti Kuri’s affected marae (Waiora). Waiora marae has shared with me that as at the date of this email to the Auditor-General’s Office, the marae is still waiting for a reply.

 

REQUEST TO INVESTIGATE

Affected citizens’ believe our concerns to NRC are significant in a time where experts are expressing alarm about the critical state of Aotearoa’s water security.  These concerns are further exacerbated by the very real threat of climate crisis impacts.  Yet we feel NRC is treating us with contempt.

 

The story around this specific matter paints a picture of, at the very least, ineffective and inefficient NRC governance and/or management performance. However, cumulative and triangulated data encompassing the broader controversy surrounding the MWWUG aquifer application – and indeed aquifer and other water resource consent applications around our nation (of which you are no doubt aware) - indicates a more cynical, disturbing suggestion of system failure. In other words, the manner in which NRC handled these temporary water permits appears to be symptomatic of a deeper pervasive and systemic attitude and culture of contempt for We, The People, and for civic democracy.

 

Conversely, NRC is by its collective actions projecting a perception of favouring economic corporate interests and agendas at the sacrifice of environmental and social values which it ought to be upholding on behalf of citizens.  It only adds insult to injury to think that, perversely, these bureaucrats’ obstructive conduct against us is funded by us. Therefore, this undermining of democracy is surely of relevant concern to the wider public sector.

 

I please ask that the Auditor-General investigate NRC’s failure to respond in a timely and good faith manner to citizens regarding its temporary water consents (including explanations as to NRC’s justification for its decisions).

 

Ngā mihi,

 

Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn

[...]Whangārei-Terenga-Paraoa 0173
B.L/B.Soc.Sci, LLM

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Indigenous Fellow (2005)

[...]
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Malcolm Nicolson [mailto:malcolmn@nrc.govt.nz]
Sent: Tuesday, 12 June 2018 6:28 a.m.
To: Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn
Subject: Read: NRC (non) reply to old query re temp water permits

Your message
   To: Malcolm Nicolson
   Subject: NRC (non) reply to old query re temp water permits
   Sent: Monday, June 11, 2018 10:12:40 PM


From: catherinedavis@hotmail.co.nz
Sent: Wednesday, 9 May 2018 4:06 p.m.
To: 'Alissa Sluys'
Subject: RE: MWWUG - REQ.581172 - NRC (non) reply to old query re temp water permits

[…] And did you have a reply to the final matter I noted below please?

Ngā mihi,

Catherine


From: Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn [mailto:catherinedavis@hotmail.co.nz]
Sent: Wednesday, 9 May 2018 11:29 AM
To: Alissa Sluys <alissas@nrc.govt.nz>
Subject: Fw: MWWUG - REQ.581172 - Hearing Closed, audios of hearings, and NRC reply to old query re temp water permits
Importance: High

Kia ora Alissa,

I used to receive emails from NRC on this matter, but seem to have dropped off the email list. […] I appear not to have received a reply to my original query sent 6 weeks ago re temporary water permits (attached).  My request for an update was apparently deleted without reading by Stuart Savill.  Not sure what to make of that?

 

Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn

[...]Whangārei-Terenga-Paraoa 0173
B.L/B.Soc.Sci, LLM

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Indigenous Fellow (2005)

_________________________
From: Stuart Savill [mailto:StuartS@nrc.govt.nz]
Sent: Thursday, 19 April 2018 7:49 a.m.
To: Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn
Subject: Not read: Motutangi-Waiharara Water Users Group (MWWUG) resource consent applicants - investigation into unlawful water take by applicants
Importance: High

Your message

   To: Stuart Savill
   Subject: RE: Motutangi-Waiharara Water Users Group (MWWUG) resource consent applicants - investigation into unlawful water take by applicants
   Sent: Tuesday, April 17, 2018 6:05:33 PM (UTC+12:00) Auckland, Wellington

 was deleted without being read on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 5:03:00

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: catherinedavis@hotmail.co.nz
Sent: Tuesday, 17 April 2018 6:06 p.m.
To: 'Stuart Savill'; angelas@nrc.govt.nz; 'Alissa Sluys'
Cc: 'bills@nrc.govt.nz'; 'Mike Finlayson (mikef@nrc.govt.nz)'
Subject: RE: Motutangi-Waiharara Water Users Group (MWWUG) resource consent applicants - investigation into unlawful water take by applicants
Importance: High

Kia ora, could you please advise where this query is at as I don’t believe I’ve received a reply. 

Thanks.

Catherine

 

From: catherinedavis@hotmail.co.nz
Sent: Friday, 30 March 2018 3:22 p.m.
To: 'Stuart Savill'; angelas@nrc.govt.nz; Alissa Sluys
Cc: bills@nrc.govt.nz; Mike Finlayson (mikef@nrc.govt.nz); Colin Dall (colind@nrc.govt.nz); Felicity Foy; Colin Kitchen MNZM; Mate Radich; Adele Gardner; Bronwyn Bauer-Hunt; Awhina Murupaenga; Melanie Dalziel; Nuu Ward; Lawrie Atkinson; winston.peters@parliament.govt.nz; Kelvin Davis (Kelvin.Davis@parliament.govt.nz); matt.king@parliament.govt.nz; j.shaw@ministers.govt.nz; eugenie.sage@parliament.govt.nz; n.mahuta@ministers.govt.nz; m.whaitiri@ministers.govt.nz; Marama Davidson; enquiries@ngatikuri.iwi.nz; harry@replassheet.com; admin@terarawa.co.nz; Wallace.rivers@ngaitakotoiwi.co.nz; Rangitane@ngaitakotoiwi.co.nz; info@teaupouri.iwi.nz; The Northland Age; editor@northernadvocate.co.nz; Peter-Lucas Jones; tautokofm@tautoko.com; Lois Williams - Radio NZ; rnz@radionz.co.nz; 'Hon John Carter QSO'
Subject: Motutangi-Waiharara Water Users Group (MWWUG) resource consent applicants - investigation into unlawful water take by applicants
Importance: High

 

Kia ora koutou,

 

During the MWWUG application hearings this week, a statement was read out [written] by Professor Margaret Mutu, Chair of Te Rūnanga-a-Iwi o Ngāti Kahu, condemning “the illegal take of water from the aquifer”, and calling for “Northland Regional Council […]not to issue retrospective consents, but rather to undertake retrospective prosecutions of those involved.”

 

I also understand from the hearing interventions (submissions) that, due to concerned local citizens notifying NRC of such unethical behaviour, NRC has known for months about this situation and begun investigations (primarily through Colin Dall, GM Regulatory Services) against alleged law-breakers, including some of the MWWUG applicants themselves.  However, the result has been to reward perpetrators’ bad behaviour with the issuance of temporary water permits, and apparently some investigations are still to be completed and NRC action taken.

 

Several months is too long a time for citizens to wait for an NRC determination on these alleged breaches of the law, let alone to see accountability.  I call on NRC to conclude these investigations urgently, and respect Ngāti Kahu’s instruction regarding the outcome of those investigations.

 

Ngā mihi,

Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn

Nō Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa
B.L/B.Soc.Sci, LLM

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Indigenous Fellow (2005)”

 

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