Treating a natural resource as something to be respected and not merely exploited sounds good. But the legal implications are interesting.
"Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person," said Finlayson in a statement.
Okay. So if a person drowns in the river, can it be charged with murder? I suppose New Zealand doesn't have the death penalty, but can a river be imprisoned?
Perhaps disappointingly, the Bill clarfies:
(1) Te Awa Tupua is a legal person and has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.
(2) The rights, powers, and duties of Te Awa Tupua must be exercised or performed, and responsibility for its liabilities must be taken, by Te Pou Tupua on behalf of, and in the name of, Te Awa Tupua, in the manner provided for in this Part and in Ruruku Whakatupua—Te Mana o Te Awa Tupua.
The purpose of Te Pou Tupua is to be the human face of Te Awa Tupua and act in the name of Te Awa Tupua.
So, if the river kills someone, this "human face" gets jail time? Probably not:
The persons appointed to Te Pou Tupua are not personally liable for any action taken or omission made in their capacity as Te Pou Tupua, but only if the action or omission relates to their powers and functions under this Act and they have acted in good faith.
When the bill receives royal assent, the river will not only be a legal person but also, for some purposes, an institution, a public body, a public authority and a body corporate.