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Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera, Tūhoe country.
Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera, Tūhoe country. (Photo by: Matthew Lovette via Getty Images)

PoliticsOctober 9, 2023

Election 2023: The wai and whenua policies in two minutes

Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera, Tūhoe country.
Lake Waikaremoana in Te Urewera, Tūhoe country. (Photo by: Matthew Lovette via Getty Images)

Taonga from te taiao often become political footballs during election years, and 2023 is no different.

See more from our policy in two minutes series here.

Wai and whenua – two commercially, culturally, politically and spiritually important resources – are intrinsically intertwined with te ao Māori. While both resources often become talking points during elections, this campaign the kōrero on wai and whenua has been relatively quiet, particularly compared to 2022. Amid the Three Waters furore, last year’s local elections saw Māori water rights become a political football (once again). 

Despite these kaupapa not coming up much this election, what politicians say about these taonga is still important. After all, whatever next week’s election winner is saying on the campaign trail will translate into government policy. Read below for a brief explanation, but head to for deeper insights. 


Both the Green and Māori parties want dispossessed indigenous land to be returned. They say Māori should be given first right of refusal when certain whenua goes on sale. For example, Te Pāti Māori thinks mana whenua should have the first chance to buy privately owned but historically significant land.

During the 2020 election, TPM said Ihumātao – pictured here – was historically significant whenua that should be returned to Māori, as has since happened. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The two parties believe conservation land (currently exempt from redress) should be returned. The DOC estate covers one-third of the motu, including many wahi tapu. As well as DOC properties, Te Pāti Māori also argues privately and local government-owned whenua should be made available to return to tāngata whenua (both are currently exempt from redress).

Speaking of redress and land dispossession, the Greens want to see where existing redress fails by establishing a commission to investigate Treaty breaches that caused land dispossession and the lasting legacy of said dispossession.

Some other Green policies include abolishing whenua Māori perpetual leases, stopping Public Works Act dispossessions and embedding Te Tiriti into the Reserves Act. Lastly, their policy covers ngahere. They’re keen to increase funding for indigenous ngahere, from supporting and restoring existing forests to establishing new ones.

Building on whenua Māori

Labour and the Greens think it needs to be easier to build on whenua Māori. Labour will support installing sustainable infrastructure – like solar panels – at marae and papakāinga and develop a papakāinga planning standard to streamline whānau-centric housing consents. 

Papakāinga aren’t always rural sites. This pictured papakāinga – Te Aro Pā – is in central Wellington. (Photo: Te Tumu Paeroa)

The Greens advocate for removing funding and regulatory barriers. They’ll scale up Whai Kāinga, Whai Oranga – which supports Māori housing projects and developments – by $150m and invest $50m into upskilling Māori housing providers. Regulatory measures include amending Kāinga Whenua loan schemes and providing tāngata whenua low-interest loans. They’d also make modular/pre-fabricated whare available at-cost to Māori housing developers. 

Although they have plenty of policies about reducing red tape to simplify construction, neither Act nor National has policies that aim to explicitly streamline building on whenua Māori. 


Te Pāti Māori advocates for the recognition of Māori customary, decision-making and proprietary rights and interests over wai māori. They’d charge companies using freshwater more and would not allow any more bottling consents until tāngata whenua and the Crown jointly develop a new management system. Said system would acknowledge the intrinsic whakapapa of wai māori to allow hapū and iwi to negotiate for whakapapa rights to be respected by law. 

Act, National and NZ First oppose the freshwater consent framework “te mana o te wai”. A National Party policy document says they’d “consider ways to rebalance Te Mana o te Wai to better reflect the interests of all water users.” Conversely, Te Pāti Māori wants to substantially increase the framework’s funding to protect and restore waterways. 

Te mana o te wai requires freshwater management to firstly protect the mana and mauri of wai māori and then provide for people’s needs. Any other uses of freshwater (like commercial interests) come last. Act has suggested that if te mana o te wai were repealed, some indigenous water rights could persist through a system similar to RMA permits. 

When it comes to the co-governance aspect of the so-called “Three Waters reforms”, Labour continues to support the power-sharing initiatives. In contrast, National has vowed to repeal it within their first 100 days in office – and their potential allies, Act and NZ First, also oppose co-governing water infrastructure. 

three yellow pipes with water coming out of them, on a blue background with speech bubbles containing question marks and ellipses
Image: Tina Tiller


Labour wants to protect tāngata whenua commercial and customary fishing rights, and they’re also keen to establish a national framework for waterways and marine life rāhui. Supporting iwi and hapū to move or protect their marae and urupā affected by sea level rise is another part of Labour’s 2023 manifesto. 

NZ First is campaigning to expand the aquaculture industry to create jobs and wealth. They give the example that they’d like the Ngāi Tahu salmon farm off Stewart Island – rejected by Labour – to proceed. 


Wetlands: Increasing funding for wetlands to protect and grow them – while ensuring that Māori customary use of these areas is protected – is included in the Greens’ policy platform.  

Incentivising conservation: Labour wants to reward private landowners for protecting indigenous flora and fauna through a credit system. 

This is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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