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What is co-governance?


The terms ‘co-governance’ and ‘co-management’  can apply to any form of shared responsibility where there are diverse groups with shared interests. We focus first on arrangements between an organisation and mana whenua - hapū or iwi of a particular area.

Co-governance and co-management are often confused.  Governance focuses on strategic direction, while management is concerned with day-to-day operational responsibilities. Some organisations practice only co-governance.  In their 108-page report on co-governance, Raewyn Peart and Bruce Cox, who have studied co-governance and co-management structures, say that the terms can overlap in practice, and in some situations there may be elements of both co-governance and co-management. 


Some people use the term ‘co-governance’ to describe arrangements where a group or local body may have only an advisory agreement with mana whenua, or to describe any organisation where Maori have some say. This has created lots of confusion.  It has not helped that the terms are seldom officially defined.  


One place where the terms are officially defined is in the 96-page 2010 Deed in Relation to Co-governance and Co-management of the Waipa River.  Here co-governance is where Maniapoto and the Crown commit to working together to ‘set the primary direction’ (p 17) to achieve the restoration of the Waipa and Waikato Rivers, and co-management is where they commit to working in partnership and a spirit of collaboration to ‘implement the direction set under the co-governance framework’ (p 17). 


How co-governance arrangements happen

1. Treaty settlement agreements

Some co-governance arrangements are mandated in law as part of a Treaty of Waitangi settlement which provides for the involvement of hapū and iwi in the governance of lands and waterways which are significant to them.  This is often in circumstances where ownership and control was wrongfully asserted by the Crown.  A well-known example is the Waikato River Authority, established in 2010 to focus on restoring the health of the Waikato River.    


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Waikato River, Photo: Ministry for the Environment

For more detail about Treaty settlement agreements, see RMA lawyer Paul Beverley’s  ‘A stronger voice for Māori in natural resource governance and management' (13-page PDF).

For a more critical eye on Treaty settlements, see Professor Margaret Mutu’s  ‘The Treaty claims settlement process (18-page PDF) in New Zealand and its impact on Māori’. 


2. The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) 

This Act made it possible for hapū and iwi to become decision makers.  S33 allows local bodies to transfer any of their functions, powers or duties to a range of public authorities, including an iwi authority (but not hapū).  However, the first s33 transfer of powers did not take place until 2020, when after two years of planning and hearing public submissions, the Waikato Regional Council passed the task of monitoring Lake Taupo’s water to local iwi Ngāti Tūwharetoa (2020 Spinoff article).

Since 2005, when sections 36B to 36E were inserted into the RMA, local bodies have had the power to make joint management agreements with public authorities, iwi authorities and groups representing hapū. These agreements relate specifically to natural or physical resources, and aimed to develop and encourage collaborative projects between councils and mana whenua.  Ngāti Tūwharetoa entered into a Joint Management Agreement with Taupō District Council (13-page PDF in English and te reo Māori) in 2009, which gave them joint decision-making power in resource consent decisions about multiply-owned Māori land (it is estimated that more than 50% of the Taupō District's land area is owned by members of Ngāti Tūwharetoa).

In 2017, the RMA was amended to include Mana Whakahono o Rohe, iwi participation agreements, a tool to assist tangata whenua and local authorities to discuss, agree and record how they will work together under the RMA.  This includes agreeing how hapū and iwi will be involved in decision making.  

Mana Whakahono o Rohe agreements are different from the other mechanisms under the RMA, because they enable iwi to take the initiative.  As the Ministry for the Environment explains,  “they provide a forum to bring local authorities to the table. It is a deliberate policy shift from the status quo, because it requires any local body invited by an iwi (or hapū) organisation to enter a Mana Whakahono ā Rohe to conclude an agreement with that organisation.”

For a specific case study of Ngāti Turangutukua’s agreement with Taupō District Council,  explore their FAQs.

3. Voluntary agreements

Voluntary agreements cover a range of circumstances.  Some of these are between local authorities and mana whenua about natural resources.  A significant  example is the Te Waihora Co-governance Group agreement, which was first signed in 2012 between Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Environment Canterbury. In 2014, Selwyn District Council joined, followed by Christchurch City Council in 2016, and the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai in 2019. Read their story.


Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

Increasingly, NGOs, voluntary organisations and churches that wish to honour Te Tiriti have set up co-governance structures. For example, Sport Northland now has five Māori and five non-Maori trustees on its board. Since 1992, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has had a constitution providing for three partners, which run their affairs within their own cultural context: Tikanga Maori; Tikanga Pākehā; and Tikanga Pasefika. 


Co-management agreements

Some hapū/iwi groups have specifically co-management or joint management arrangements with local authorities or the government outside of the RMA.  These may arise where title to land (including lakebeds and reserves) has been returned to hapū/iwi as the result of a Treaty settlement, with its management subject to government regulation. For example, the land that is now Onaero Reserve, a Taranaki beachfront campground, was returned to Ngāti Mutunga in the iwi's 2005 Treaty settlement. The agreement demands that it remains a recreation reserve which the iwi co-manages with the New Plymouth District Council.  They recently released a Draft Management Plan for public feedback.

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Photo: Onaero Bay Holiday Park 


Note:  Many local authorities use vague terms - “support/work with mana whenua” - which make it difficult to know whether or not they are co-governing.


Further reading

Auditor-General (2016).  Principles for effectively co-governing natural resources (68-page PDF).

Beverley, Paul (2015). A stronger voice for Māori in natural resource governance and management (13-page PDF).

Jones, Carwyn (2023).  Co-governance and the case for shared decision making.  Policy Quarterly Volume 19, Issue 2 (8-page PDF).

Magallanes, Catherine Iorn (2021). Māori co-governance and or co-management of nature and environmental resources.  In Robert Joseph and Richard Benton (eds.) Waking the taniwha:  Māori governance in the 21st Century.  Wellington: Thomson Reuters.

Complied by Sue Abel, June 2023

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