Reflections on the process of Māori consultation as part an application to release a biological control agent

Lisa Berndt (Scion)

The programme ‘Better Border Biosecurity’ (B3) is a partnership between research providers (AgResearch, Plant and Food Research, Scion and Lincoln University) and end users (MAF BNZ, ERMA New Zealand, Department of Conservation and the Forest Biosecurity Research Council). One of the research priorities identified in the partnership has been to assist those applying to ERMA NZ for approval for new biocontrol agent introductions to better meet the HSNO Act Section 36 Minimum Standards.  An example of where assistance may be useful is in predicting and explaining the likelihood (which can be minuscule) of a new introduction displacing native species, or causing other deterioration of natural habitats.

When considering the release of a new biological control agent into New Zealand, the Biosecurity and HSNO Acts require that ERMA NZ take "the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wahi tapu [sacred places], valued flora and fauna, and other taonga [treasures]" into account when applications are considered. The Act also requires that consideration be given to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi).

The responsibility for providing to Māori an assessment of the risks, costs and benefits of a biocontrol proposal sits rests the applicants.  This can indeed be daunting for scientists leading biological control projects who may be unfamiliar with the processes around community consultation. Better Border Biosecurity researchers have therefore prepared advice on how to go about this process as part of the BIREA (Biocontrol Information Resource for ERMA Applicants) website (http://www.b3nz.org/birea/index.php?page=applying_consult_maori).

As a scientist who has recently completed a biological control project to release the parasitoid Cotesia urabae against the caterpillar pest gum leaf skeletoniser (Uraba lugens), I thought that it may be useful to share my largely positive experience of the consultation process.

In the first instance we commenced an engagement approach with relevant Māori individuals and groups prior to any formal consultation relating to the application process. This was initially with iwi having mana whenua (historical connection to the land) at the site of our research organisation in Rotorua (Scion).  In this we  used the Māori business development manager’s network. We then contacted groups in Auckland with mana whenua the areas where the agent was proposed to be released. During this time we consulted on whom else should be contacted, being well aware that the structure of Māori society and business often seems complex to non-Māori, but also recognising that talking to the appropriate people is critical to such an process.

For the purposes of the formal consultation process prior to submission of the release application, a letter or email requesting dialogue on the proposal was sent to the over 160 organisations and individuals that belong to the ERMANZ Māori National Network. Further, the proposal was also briefly presented at the National Network Hui at Te Puea Marae, Mangere in September 2009 which led to additional input. 

Finally, given that the first releases of the control agent were expected to be made in parks of Auckland City and Manukau City, Ngāti Whātua and Tainui were asked to identify any other  opportunities for effective consultation locally.  They recommended consulting those Tangata Whenua contacts listed on the Auckland Regional Council website that had not already been contacted.  As it happened, the extreme pressures resulting from preparation for the ‘supercity’ reform limited the ability of both iwi and hapu in Auckland to engage in consultation in the way that may have been possible at any other time. 

As part of this networking process we kept correspondents informed of the submission process and outcomes all of which was positive. The final stage involved contacting appropriate people in the release area, and inviting any interested parties to partake in the release process.

We found consultation though the National Māori Network and guidance and assistance from ERMA NZ’s Māori unit to be straight-forward and rewarding. Responders were well-versed in the general concepts of biological control. From our discussions it appeared that the baseline position for most Māori is that the introduction of new organisms is undesirable; a view well-supported by unfortunate experiences. We researchers therefore needed to demonstrate that some new organisms can indeed, be beneficial.

Unfortunately the number of responses, particularly from the Auckland area where initial releases were proposed and greatest pest impact anticipated was minimal (one response). The general feeling from those contacted in person was that the priority for this process was low compared to other major issues facing iwi, particularly around the ‘supercity’ process.  Few therefore had time to engage in consultation in the way that might have been possible at any other time. Regrettably, given the time constraints imposed on our project from elsewhere, we were not able to delay the process in order to accommodate further the views of those that were simply too busy at the crucial time.