A community group lobbying for clean and safe water without using chemicals is waiting to find out where the petition they presented to Parliament now stands.
But a number of MPs have hit back and said due process was followed and Standing Order 81 clearly states that if it is moved for a petition not to be read by a majority vote in the House, there essentially is no petition.
Te Vai Ora Maori’s petition, presented by MP Selina Napa to Parliament last week called for the government to look at aspects of the Te Mato Vai water system upgrade on Rarotonga.
It was the motion to read the petition, signed by over 1400 residents, that MPs voted 13/11 against, meaning the full text of it wasn’t read and tabled in Parliament.
Andy Kirkwood from Te Vai Ora Maori said Standing Order 82 requires that all petitions are referred to a select committee appointed by Parliament.
This is the action that now must be taken to ensure that the business of the House is concluded according to Standing Orders, Kirkwood reiterated.
“A petition may challenge the current government. Allowing such a challenge to be summarily dismissed by that same government would be undemocratic,” he said.
“We have forwarded our concerns to the members and Parliamentary staff for their consideration.”
During question time in Parliament on Friday, William Heather asked Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown to explain why the reading of the petition was declined, given the public concern about adding chemicals to Rarotonga’s water.
Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown said there’s no argument that everyone in Rarotonga wants clean water, that’s why the Te Mato Vai project has gone ahead – a $90m upgrade to a first world water reticulation system, he said.
“The decision to disinfect our water is one based on medical advice from Te Marae Ora, it is based on opinions of scientific experts, as to the best way to clean our type of water.”
The water supply comes from water captured in streams and it collects debris and bacteria, he said.
“Our project teams have explored a number of options including ozone, UV light and chlorination… all point to chlorination,” Brown said.
“There is no surprise it has been used as a method of disinfecting water in every country around the world for over 100 years and has proven its worth.”
Brown said petition issues that were highlighted are matters currently before court. An appointed independent water engineer was engaged to compile a report addressing concerns around the Te Mato Vai project. That report is before the judge.
“I don’t see any practical sense in bringing this issue to select committee, other than as a means to muddy the waters and to sow misinformation.”.
Leader of the Opposition Tina Browne questioned the “two lawyers” from government about clarity surrounding Standing Orders 81 and 82.
“All we voted on was that it should not be read by the Deputy Clerk,” she said.
MP for Pukapuka/Nassau Tingika Elikana, who is also the Leader of the House, pointed out
Standing Order 81 which states any member may move for the petition to be read and tabled. If this doesn’t occur Standing Order 82 becomes redundant, he added.
Prime Minister Henry Puna, in his capacity as a lawyer said Elikana was absolutely right.
“There is no petition currently before this House and it shouldn’t be brought again before this House,” he said.
“We all know in business time is money - the more the project is delayed the more the cost will increase. It’s not government’s fault that the costs are exceeding,” he said.
“So please, let’s just get on with this fundamentally important project.”