By Patrick Gower
Labour Party leader David Shearer has long-held beliefs that taniwha must be respected when it comes to Maori and their interests in water. His views can be traced back to his master's thesis, and he stands by them today.
Water has been the big political issue of the year, but when Mr Shearer was first asked who owned it he didn't know.
But it turns out Mr Shearer has a degree of expertise on the issue - a master's thesis in fact. It was called Between Two Worlds, Maori Values and Environmental Decision-Making.
In his thesis he advocated that "the belief in taniwha or spiritual pollution…while they may appear irrational to many…cannot simply be dismissed as irrelevant”. It’s a belief he still holds today.
“I absolutely stick by that,” says the Labour Party leader. He says we should acknowledge taniwha. “We have been doing that for the last 20-something years when we have made decisions around water.”
But Mr Shearer isn't so keen on all his ideas from 1986, such as making 'Marae Forum', a "compulsory requirement" that developers, councils and Government must attend.
“That was 25 years ago. Things have moved on a lot since then.”
While the academic Mr Shearer suggested a provision in environmental law to "recognise the specific cultural relationship between Maori and their use of water”, the political Mr Shearer says it’s not needed now.
“We don't need to go legislatively to that I don't think,” he says.
For the record, Mr Shearer's position on water is now the same as Prime Minister John Key's.
“Nobody owns water. It’s everybody's resource.”
And like Mr Key, he says rights can be negotiated iwi by iwi, hapu by hapu, river by river.
“It doesn't work,” says Mr Shearer. “It doesn't work if you rush it and what John Key's going to do is rush this through.”
So Mr Shearer still believes taniwha must be respected, but he would no doubt prefer his old progressive views are kept on the back-burner because he'll be worried talk of taniwha will frighten voters.