Yet again, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is proposing a programme of change which would erode the mechanisms whereby citizens hold decision-makers to account.
Today she has announced plans to establish four publicly owned entities to take responsibility of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure across New Zealand, claiming this will save ratepayers thousands of dollars and better ensure the $120 to $185 billion investment in services can be made.
Her release is part of a package of proposed reforms including the recent establishment of Taumata Arowai, the new water services regulator, and the planned introduction of economic regulation. It includes the proposed boundaries of the four water providers, further details on the proposed water services entities, including governance arrangements, the role of iwi, and how they would be regulated.
“The Government will continue to work with the sector, iwi and industry on some of the details to give these transformational reforms the best chance of success. We will be making further announcements in the coming weeks, including a three waters reform support package for councils and their communities,’’ Nanaia Mahuta said.
But the Taxpayers Union contends local democratic control over water assets will be lost and the claim that this will save ratepayer money is ”laughable”.
“The proposed matrix of committee and iwi governance is a bugger’s muddle.”
“The claim this will save ratepayer money is laughable. It will see Auckland water users funding Rolls-Royce water treatment plants in the far north, and force gold plated solutions onto tiny communities. We don’t often say Phil Goff is right, but on this, he is bang on with his warnings.”
ACT’s David Seymour said the priority should be fixing the pipes, not co-governance.
“We have sewage on the streets in Wellington and yet at local and central government level the priority is honouring the Treaty.”
Nanaia Mahuta’s water reforms would give mana whenua equal rights with councils in governing water assets, Seymour said.
“Labour’s push for co-governance of the country’s water assets is another small step towards a Partnership State where a small number of New Zealanders have greater rights under the law
“People shouldn’t have a seat at the table just because of who their ancestors were.”
Some (maybe many) mayors are unhappy, too.
Local Government New Zealand welcomed the Government’s latest Three Waters announcement as an important step in letting councils see how reform would affect their communities.
- While Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says he strongly supports the government’s objectives for water reform, he does not believe the model proposed will benefit Aucklanders.
“Aucklanders have invested heavily in building up Watercare’s more than $10 billion worth of assets, with a further $11 billion invested in water infrastructure in our current 10-year Budget,” he says.
He noted that control over those assets, and his council’s ability to ensure that Aucklanders’ needs were put first, was undermined by the reform, which proposes that Auckland Council could have less than 40 per cent of the representation in the governance of the new entity. This is despite the fact that 92% of the assets of the new entity would come from Auckland, and Auckland would have approximately 90% of the population served by the new entity.
- Kāpiti Coast District Mayor K Gurunathan says Kāpiti’s three water services would be rolled into an entity servicing the east coast of the North Island, Horowhenua, the Greater Wellington region and the top of the South Island.
“My main concern with this proposal is that our ratepayers, who have invested heavily and proactively in our water services and are well positioned for the future because of it, will end up bearing the costs of an entity that will need to prioritise addressing failing infrastructure in other areas over any work in our communities,” says Mayor Gurunathan.
Announcing the proposal to establish four publicly owned entities to take responsibility of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure across New Zealand, Nanaia Mahuta emphasised economic benefits and said the data showed the case for change was compelling.
“Without these changes DIA modelling shows that even at the more conservative end of estimates, the average household bill for water services could be as high as $1900 to $9000 by 2051, which would be unaffordable for many communities.
“Under our proposal for four providers those figures range from $800 to $1,640, saving households thousands of dollars.”
Mahuta referenced estimates that New Zealand will need to invest between $120 billion and $185 billion to maintain safe, sustainable and environmentally appropriate drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure over the next 30 years.
Those were costs that most local councils simply could not shoulder on their own, she insisted.
“The Government has considered the evidence and proposes that four large water entities will create an affordable system that ensures secure delivery of safe drinking water and resilient wastewater and stormwater systems.
“We have seen the effects of a system in crisis: fatalities from bacteria in drinking water, broken sewer pipes, poorly treated wastewater running into streams and rivers, no-swim notices at the beaches, regular boil-water notices, and lead contamination,” said Nanaia Mahuta.
The reforms are “indicated” to grow New Zealand’s GDP by $14 billion to $23 billion over the next 30 years and generate 5,850 to 9,260 full-time equivalent jobs.
Mahuta also released information showing how the reforms will affect each council and the projected costs for their communities with and without three waters reform.
At present, 67 councils provide most of the country’s three waters services
“Underinvestment, including deferred maintenance and renewals expenditure, has left a legacy of impending costs and poor services for future generations,” said Nanaia Mahuta.
Supporting information can be found at: https://www.dia.govt.nz/Three-Waters-Reform-Programme
Commenting on the announcement, the Green Party stressed the importance of public ownership “and meaningful iwi Māori involvement” in the governance of the new three waters entities.
National’s Water spokesperson Simon Bridges acknowledged there was a clear case for change in our Three Waters sector but said the Government’s plan was not compelling and the model of four regional entities came with several problems
The benefits of scale were not convincing, Bridges said.
“The result will be large service organisations that won’t work together or create any savings. The last thing New Zealanders need is more bloated bureaucracies.”
Bridges questioned how the water assets of communities like Kaikōura and Bluff, some 800km apart, could be practically networked and merged into one entity.
“Ratepayers face losing local control of the assets they’ve paid for over generations, while being asked to foot the bill for poorer-performing neighbours – all while getting no guarantee that the service will materially improve,” Mr Bridges says.
ACT’s David Seymour focused on “Labour’s push for co-governance of our water assets”.
So many of Labour’s policies were incompatible with liberal democracy, he said. Control of areas as diverse as education, health and water were being converted to co-governance.
“We’re moving towards a ‘Partnership State’, where there’s an equal partnership between seventeen percent of the population and the other 83 percent.
“It’s reminiscent of feudalism or the caste system where certain groups get the inside running.
“The Government is reinterpreting the Treaty as a partnership between two collectives where our rights depend on who our grandparents were.”
ACT says the Treaty means all New Zealanders are equal before the law.