Buzz from the Beehive – Mahuta tries to mollify us about co-governance by not mentioning it in her Three Waters statement

Just when you thought it was safe to talk about water and democratic accountability…

Yep. Along comes Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta – taking time out from foreign affairs duties, promoting and protecting our interests in the Pacific – with legislation to give effect to the Three Waters programme and governance proposals which many local authorities oppose.

Her press statement is a deft piece of work. It makes no mention of “co-governance,” “partnership” or “the Treaty.”

But not mentioning sharks does not mean our waters are free of them.

Mahuta’s announcement on the next stage of her Three Waters plans was by far the most contentious of the news items posted on the Beehive website in the past 24 hours.

Others deal with matters such as the names of the 2022 Tagaloa scholars, advice to take care of ourselves on the roads this weekend, and – not before time – a ceremony to mark the start of work on Dunedin’s new $1.47 billion hospital.

Mahuta in fact has made two announcements with implications for democratic governance at local government level in the past 24 hours.

She has confirmed the government will get rid of the legal requirement to list a physical address on campaign advertising for the upcoming local government elections.

The Local Electoral Act 2001 requires candidates to include a physical address on the authorisation statement of advertising materials, such as billboards and flyers. Often this is the candidate’s home address.

But Mahuta says she has heard growing concerns that candidates who publicise their home addresses

“… may face undue risk to their physical safety, particularly for women and visible minorities, and that this is likely to discourage democratic participation.

“The requirement for contact information on campaign advertisements is supposed to promote transparency, not dissuade people from putting their hands up to represent their local communities.”

And so, a Local Electoral Amendment Bill will be introduced into Parliament soon, replacing the requirement to include a physical address.

“There will now be a wider range of options including an email address, a PO Box, a telephone number or a website URL that contains one of these wider range of contact options.”

There have been cross-party discussions on the bill and about having it passed in time for upcoming local body nominations, due to take place on 15 July, Mahuta said.

The change was recommended by and supported by Local Government NZ

“… and will bring certainty to campaigning rules for the upcoming local body elections,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

But Mahuta (like her party colleagues) is cynically selective about the matters which will prompt her to go out and bat for “democratic participation.”

Point of Order expects she will vote along with all other Labour MPs – and Green Party and Māori MPs – to ensure the passage of a bill to enshrine permanent Māori representation on Environment Canterbury (ECan), Canterbury’s regional council.

Just back with only minor changes from the scrutiny of a select committee chaired by Democracy Tweaker Tamati Coffey,  the bill aims to enable Ngai Tahu leaders to duck the process of campaigning for support at local government elections.  They will be given the privilege of being able to appoint two members of the council, beginning with the local body elections this year.

The bill specifies that these members have the same rights and remuneration as elected councillors.

Why this passes muster with the country’s Bill of Rights Act when a bill to give Māori voters an electoral advantage in Rotorua did not is something for Attorney-General David Parker to explain.

The government’s disdain for democracy – or its urge to make our democracy more sophisticated – is reflected, too, in the Water Services Entities Bill which was introduced to Parliament yesterday.

Mahuta said this is the first of several pieces of legislation to establish a new system for national water services

“…  that meets the needs of communities and the environment, while keeping costs low for households.”

It establishes four dedicated Water Service Entities that will enable infrastructure to provide safe and affordable drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater services, said Mahuta.

She emphasised the bill

“…will also ensure public ownership is a bottom line for this Government, and the Bill contains strong protections against privatisation that will ensure this essential infrastructure is safeguarded for future generations.”

It incorporates the recommendations of the Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability and

“… secures community ownership of the water entities, protects against privatisation, and ensures a stronger community voice in the new entities.

“It ensures the collective ownership of the entities by local government on behalf of their communities through a shareholding allocated on the basis of population, as recommended by the Working Group.”

Oh – and then she says:

“The Bill contains robust mechanisms to provide for iwi/Māori rights and interests in our three waters system but makes clear these rights and interests do not include ownership.”

Any guess about how this might be done?

The bill will shortly undergo its first reading debate in Parliament, then be subject to a full select committee process where further public submissions will be heard.

Further legislation will be introduced later this year to enable the transfer of assets and liabilities from local authorities to Water Services Entities and integrate entities into other regulatory systems.

Another piece of legislation will cover economic regulation and consumer protection, to ensure water services are reasonable and affordable.

A National Transition Unit will oversee the establishment of the new entities over the next two years.

Not everybody is swallowing Mahuta’s spin, as these news items attest:

And a new scientific poll commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union shows three quarters of New Zealanders believe that those responsible for water services should be directly accountable to voters.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was undertaken by Curia Market Research and asked, Do you think those who are responsible for provision of local drinking, waste, and storm water services should be directly accountable to voters?

Seventy-six per cent said yes and just eight per cent said no. Fifteen per cent were unsure.

Support for democratically accountable water services is consistent across every part of the country and with voting bases of every major political party.

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says,

 “Of course, Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters regime would run roughshod over local accountability. The boards of the new water monopolies would be insulated from accountability by multiple layers of bureaucracy. The one layer that is nominally democratic – the representation group – is in fact co-governed with iwi appointees, who will have effective veto power over major decisions.”

“To put it simply, ratepayers unhappy with the value or reliability of their water services won’t be able to vote out the people in charge. This removes the incentive for the water monopolies to keep water bills reasonable and deliver reliable services.”

Latest from the Beehive

3 JUNE 2022

2022 Tagaloa scholars announced 

Telesia Caldwell and Siaosi Vaili are the 2022 recipients of the annual Tagaloa Scholarships, Hon Aupito William Sio announced today.

Don’t look back on this weekend with regret

The Government is urging New Zealanders to keep safety front of mind when travelling this long weekend.

Residential addresses on campaign adverts

The Government has confirmed it will change the law to remove the requirement to list a physical address on campaign advertising for the upcoming local government elections.

Dunedin Hospital construction signals start of major health infrastructure work

The major construction phase of the Government’s multi-billion-dollar investment in health infrastructure is being marked at a ceremony in Dunedin today.

 2 JUNE 2022

New legislation to improve water services and protect community ownership

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta says the Water Services Entities Bill is the first of several pieces of legislation to establish a new system for national water services that meets the needs of communities and the environment, while keeping costs low for households.

2 thoughts on “Buzz from the Beehive – Mahuta tries to mollify us about co-governance by not mentioning it in her Three Waters statement

  1. You are quite correct to see a parallel between the ECan and Water Services Entities bills on the one hand and the Rotorua Representation Arrangements Bill on the other. All three breach the principle of equal suffrage to which New Zealand is committed under International Human Rights law. Perhaps Mr Parker can explain?

    The Water Services Entities Bill provides for regional representative groups half of whose members will be from local territorial authorities and half from “mana whenua”. Just who are these “mana whenua”? No less than the Waitangi Tribunal has said, ” We are inclined to think that the term “mana whenua” is an unhelpful 19th century
    innovation that does violence to cultural integrity. .. our main concern is with the use of the words “mana whenua” to imply that only one group can speak for all in a given area when in fact there are several distinct communities of interest, or to assume that one group has a priority of interest in all topics for consideration.” The Environment Court has also expressed concerns.

    The term “mana whenua” was made up in the 19th century. It links mana or authority with ownership of the whenua
    (soil). But as the Tribunal has noted “the linking of mana with land does not fit comfortably with Māori
    concepts”. Mana is a quality possessed by individuals such as chiefs.

    “Mana whenua” appears to have no clear meaning in law. If this awful, anti-democratic bill passes there seems to be plenty of scope for legal challenges.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What I’d like to know is where these “iwi/Maori rights in our three waters system” come from. I’m blown away by the fact that has never been explained and the press has never even asked. It’s like if they announced a plan to give $100b to ginger-haired people and no-one thought to ask why.

    In fairness, the three waters system includes drinking water from fresh water sources, and iwi/Maori can have customary rights to those sources, but there is a separate and statutory process for recognising those rights. The rest of the three waters system consists of pipes, drains, treatment plants, pumping stations, testing stations, plant, vehicles, machinery, and staff. None of that is taonga. None of it existed before colonisation (unlike, say, radio spectrum). I just can’t see any basis for it in law or in the treaty.

    Interestingly, Nanaia Mahuta claimed (in cabinet papers published online) that the legal basis came from advice she received from the Crown Law Office, but when she was challenged on that she refused to divulge the advice itself, and took down the cabinet papers! It seems possible/likely that she misrepresented that Crown Law advice and mislead cabinet to sell her plan. The only other explanations are either that Crown Law have gone rogue and started inventing new Maori rights, or there is some genuine legal basis that justifies it all. But if it was the latter you’d think she would release the advice to silence her critics…. As usual the press is too busy with more important things like Prince Harry, Megan, and Amber Heard to look into this.

    There’s actually a court case pending to get to the bottom of the legal basis for these “rights and interests”, brought by the water users group (https://www.waterusers.org.nz/news/amended-statement-of-claim) but it’s unlikely to be heard before the reforms are rammed through parliament. Of course the press are bound by the PIJF to pretend it’s not happening….

    Like

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