This paper examines the progress of the Land and Water Forum, which was a stakeholder-led collaborative governance process established to recommend potential reform of New Zealand’s fresh water management.
Introduction: Looking at collaborative processes in retrospect is always easier than it was at the time they were first happening. They tend to look more designed, orderly, and less messy than they actually were. In Land and Water Forum case, a number of strands of activity/inactivity and actors came together to construct the beginning.
By 2008, progress to establish a framework for land and water protection and use in New Zealand, beyond earlier policy initiatives (1967 Water and Soil Conservation Act to the RMA in 1991), had stalled, and processes around water governance had become increasingly conflict-riven and uncertain. A voluntary Accord between dairy farmers and government agencies to stem the environmental effects of run-off contaminants into streams and rivers, occurring from increased dairying, was seen as inadequate for stemming a growing water pollution problem. Most environmental advocates, wanted a more effective and nationally consistent approach to regulation than the regional councils, empowered by the RMA, were delivering.
Guy Salmon, a well-known and widely respected environmental advocate had been funded to examine more collaborative approaches to environmental policy used in the Nordic countries. Salmon reported on his findings to an audience at an environment conference which included a wide range of the key players with an interest in the environment and environmental regulation. According to Salmon, the Nordic countries had some impressive achievements in making major changes to create more sustainability in infrastructure and resource use using collaborative approaches. Salmon’s research and advocacy for a more collaborative approach to solving New Zealand’s impasse gained support from some key actors attending an environment conference such as the Environmental Defence Society, iwi, agricultural business interests. Continuing discussions among key people and also the person who would become the Minister for the Environment after an election that changed the government in late 2008, opened up the possibility of the application of the approach in New Zealand.
In late 2008, Ministers in the then new National-led government saw this increasing difficulty in establishing a consensus about what constituted sustainable land use and its implications for freshwater governance as an opportunity to back a different approach. The willingness of a critical number of keys actors representing powerful environment, agricultural business, and iwi interests to work actively on a solution and the willingness of Ministers to give support to a collaborative process took some months of negotiation to secure. Agreement first had to be reached about the problem that the various key stakeholder interests were willing to work on and the mandate that ministers were willing to give to a learn-as-you-go collaborative process. The result was that in July 2009 Cabinet gave the Minister for the Environment (Nick Smith) and the Minister for Agriculture, later Primary Industries, (David Carter) permission to initiate a stakeholder-led collaborative governance process to recommend reform of New Zealand’s freshwater management. The Land and Water Trust was formed by key non-government actors (with trustees from Ngati Tuwharetoa, Dairy New Zealand; Forest and Bird; and Alastair Bisley as Chair) to create a vehicle which could support a collaborative process separate from government.