Waiheke leaders are fighting to keep a local voice on the Hauraki Gulf Forum which is making plans for the future of the gulf.
Waitemata and gulf councillor Mike Lee says a “disturbing” Hauraki Gulf Forum meeting was held last week to discuss proposed changes to its membership and functions.
“The forum has been captured by interests that are not necessarily conservation minded or from Auckland.
“There’s a domination of the Hauraki Gulf Forum essentially by Waikato farming interests and iwi interests from Coromandel that has not worked out that well,” he says.
The forum currently has 21 members, including Mr Lee, Waiheke Local Board member John Meeuwsen and Great Barrier Local Board member Jeff Cleave, but the island representatives could lose their say on what happens in the gulf if moves to cut the forum back to 16 members go ahead.
At present six of the 21 forum members represent mana whenua, but a review has recommended that eight of the 16 members should represent Maori tribal rights over the gulf.
At the forum meeting last week, Waiheke Local Board chairperson Paul Walden put forward a motion that prevented the forum from supporting recommendations to cut the forum to 16 members, increase mana whenua representation, and make changes to the forum’s role.
Mr Walden succeeded in delaying the changes from being accepted until all the agencies that are currently represented on the forum have been consulted.
Feedback will now be sought from Waiheke and Great Barrier local boards, Auckland and five other councils, and the ministries of conservation, fisheries and Maori affairs.
Mr Walden says he finds it particularly “alarming” that the forum intends to implement the marine spatial plan for the gulf by October this year, when the public has not been given a chance to see a draft of the plan or comment on it.
It would be a “tragedy” if restructuring of the forum meant that representatives from Waiheke and Great Barrier local boards were removed from the forum, despite close connections to the gulf in these communities, he says.
The forum is considering seeking changes to the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act that was passed in 2000 and primarily focuses on environmental protection. “The group developing the marine spatial plan has a focus of economic, social and cultural gains and considers the environment only when it complements the other three.
“There’s a spin away from environmental protection,” says Mr Walden.
The recent review of the forum recommends that the 21 current members be replaced with eight members chosen by mana whenua; five political, business or non-governmental organisation representatives that would be appointed by the Minister of Conservation; one representative from Auckland Council, one from Waikato Regional Council and one representing the four other councils, Waikato District Council, Hauraki District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council and Thames Coromandel District Council.
This would drastically reduce the government, council and local board input, says Mr Lee.
The forum review was carried out by Wellington lawyer Paul Beverley, who specialises in Treaty of Waitangi settlements and conservation law, Waikato Regional Council chief executive Vaughan Payne and Auckland Council head of internal audit Mark Maloney.
The review report recommends that “particular attention is paid to treaty settlement processes and the Sea Change Tai Timu Tai Pari process” and that the forum has “co-governance” with equal numbers of mana whenua and “other” members.
The report notes that Treaty of Waitangi settlements have not been completed around the gulf and settlement processes for the harbours are yet to begin.
Changes to the forum should respect treaty settlements and “be alive” to opportunities that may arise from these settlements, the report states.
“Those opportunities are being seized in many different places in Aotearoa/ New Zealand and there have been real successes in the adoption of, for example, co-governance frameworks over areas and resources,” the report states.
The report released this month argues that the forum should have “more statutory authority and a stronger and more direct role in terms of statutory decision-making over the Hauraki Gulf”.
The forum had initially intended to “support” these recommendations, but after Mr Walden presented his concerns, the recommendations were only “received” by the forum. • Rose Davis

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