Poll: How well do people understand Three Waters co-governance?

Just 17% of eligible voters feel they have a good idea of what co-governance in relation to Three Waters is, according to a new 1News Kantar Public poll.

The poll asked 1002 eligible voters: “Co-governance is part of the Government's new Three Waters policy. Which of the following best describes your understanding of what co-governance means with respect to Three Waters?”

Seventeen percent said they had a "good understanding" of what it meant, 45% said they had a "basic understanding" of what it meant, and 34% said they did not understand what it meant.

Three percent said they did not know or refused to answer.

Those most likely to say they had a good understanding of what co-governance meant in respect to the Government's Three Waters policy were Act Party supporters (39%), men aged 55 plus (27%), men aged 35 to 54 (24%) and those with a household income of more than $150,000 (24%).

Results on 1News Kantar Public poll on co-governance/ Three Waters

Those more likely to say they had a basic understanding were New Zealand Europeans (49%), while those more likely to say they did not understand it included women aged 18 to 34 (51%), Pasifika people (49%), Asian New Zealanders (47%) and women aged 35 to 54 (42%).

"It shows the majority of people don’t really get what we’re trying to achieve and that’s on us to explain it better," Kieran McAnulty, who as Local Government Minister is leading the reforms, said in response to the poll.

Read more: Explainer: What is co-governance?

He Puapua co-author Jacinta Ruru said co-governance meant adding a Māori voice to decision-making, and valuing that voice.

"Co-governance, or joint management... is something we've been working through as a nation over the last two [or] three decades."

He Puapua was a report commissioned by Te Puni Kōkiri and written in 2019. Its aim was to explore how New Zealand could meet its commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and caused some controversy.

In relation to water, Ruru said it was about valuing as many voices, knowledge systems and professional practices in decision-making.

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell.

"Māori have generational knowledge that they can bring to the decision-making table, and we ought to be celebrating that."

She said robust discussion should always be welcomed.

"150 years ago no-one was jumping up and down and saying Māori weren't able to vote... Māori back in the 1860s were restricted into four electorate seats even though they were the dominant population in New Zealand. We haven't had proportional Māori voting, Māori being able to choose whether they go from the Māori roll or [general] roll until the mid 1970s.

"Half-caste Māori were restricted to only being able to vote in those four Māori seats.

"I find it quite interesting that we talk about a threat to democracy that co-governance could potentially provide... when Māori have been restricted and deliberately limited since 1840 in being able to contribute to the decision-making of this nation."

She said co-governance was an opportunity to "rebalance".

Rotorua mayor Tania Tapsell said it wasn't surprising there was a third of people who did not understand what co-governance meant.

Tapsell, who was the East Coast candidate for the National Party in the 2020 election, said the Government had failed to communicate what co-governance was regarding Three Waters, but also more broadly.

"Co-governance, to me, is ensuring Māori and iwi do have a say. However, there have been concerns raised, including by myself, that amalgamating that Māori voice does not serve our local communities either."

She said it was not possible to replace the relationships mana whenua already had with councils.

Tainui Iwi leader Tukoroirangi Morgan

"Whether it's co-governance or co-management, [the relationships] already exist, we don't need to duplicate them."

Tainui iwi leader Tukoroirangi Morgan said he wasn't surprised by the poll result because the Government had done "a poor job" of the "nuances" and explanation of the issue.

"As a result there's confusion and the issue of co-governance has been weaponised... in order to get votes."

He said the New Zealand public should not be afraid of co-governance.

"This is an opportunity for us to work together and move the dial."