Recommendations in select committee’s hefty report do little to dilute Mahuta’s Three Waters legislation

We were thinking about packing up for the day, here at Point of Order, when an email arrived from the Office of Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

She was advising us the Government has welcomed proposed recommendations from a Parliamentary select committee to improve the workability of water reform legislation.

She didn’t provide a link to steer us to the report, but we found it here and it’s a hefty document.

For now, we must rely on Mahuta’s digested version of the contents, although we are reminded that the Nats don’t think much has been changed by the recommendations and they will scrap the legislation.

National’s Local Government spokesperson Simon Watts notes that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta had given assurances they would consider the alternative Three Waters model proposed by the Auckland, Christchurch and Waimakariri mayors. 

 He said he had lodged a motion in select committee last week to extend its deliberations to properly consider the mayors’ proposal,

“… but Labour MPs used their majority to block the motion – ensuring the Bill would be sent back to the House without adequately considering the new proposal.

 “It shows that Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta’s promises of consideration and open dialogue with mayors about their alternatives are just talk. Labour has no intention of making any real changes to their reforms.”

 Mahuta’s emphasis in her  press statement was on cost savings on behalf of ratepayers, not on the widely criticised co-governance arrangements she has been championing:

“At a time when the cost of living challenges confronting households is real, these reforms will help lessen the burden of necessary water infrastructure investment on ratepayers.”

Her statement was prompted by Parliament’s cross-party Finance and Expenditure Committee reporting back after five months’ work on the Water Services Entities Bill.

The bill establishes four publicly owned water entities

“… to deliver more cost-effective, safe and efficient water services, through improved investment and management.”

Mahuta thanked the committee for its careful consideration of more than 80,000 submissions and welcomed its recommendations.

According to the committee’s report, the number was 88,383 submissions.

Carefully considering that number can only be regarded as a Herculean task.

As the result of listening to public submissions, Nanaia Mahuta went on,

“… extensive changes have been proposed.”

Again, her emphasis is on the benefits for citizens as ratepayers:

“Government, councils and communities agree: we need to fix water networks and keep costs down. Financially sustainable investment in water infrastructure is beyond the reach of most of our 67 local councils and their ratepayers if they work in isolation.

“Keeping a lid on rates rises is imperative, as households, businesses, communities and councils around the country face cost of living challenges.

Then came the health and wellbeing consideration:

“When an estimated 34,000 New Zealanders get sick from drinking water each year, that is a crisis. We are committed to ensuring everyone’s drinking water is clean, boil water notices are minimised, sewage leaks get fixed, and pipes are in the ground to help build new homes, in the most cost-effective way possible.”

Next in Mahuta’s press statement, she says the amendments make the legislation more “workable”.

“They improve local voice, strengthen representation, and increase transparency. They will also provide certainty to councils and those working in the water services sector about the future of our critical infrastructure.

“We heard from rural councils who felt their voices would be drowned out by larger urban centres. At their request, the Bill now includes a provision which requires a mix of rural, provincial and metropolitan councils to be present on the regional representative group.

“We will also require the entities to establish an annual shareholders’ meeting. In the interests of transparency, we are also requiring these meetings and entity board meetings to be held in public. This level of public reporting will give communities greater visibility of infrastructure investment that supports broader wellbeing.

“Internal Affairs officials have also worked with the Office of the Auditor-General to improve accountability measures in the legislation, including strengthened reporting lines and obligations and increased audit scrutiny.

“We have listened to local government concerns about the role of entities in the local planning system. Our response is clear: entities will be ‘plan-takers’ not ‘plan-makers’.”

Improved planning is in the offing, too:

“We have agreed to stronger rules to require water entities to better support and enable planning processes and growth. This gives councils and their communities certainty they will still be in the driving seat when it comes to planning and development.”

Mahuta said she acknowledged submissions and other input which questioned the fundamental elements of the water reforms.

“The Government has listened to and considered these views. We have also had tough conversations over the past five years since the former National Government first began this process.”

The statement concluded:

“We remain firmly of the view that the future affordability and sustainability of our water infrastructure is best served by reform underpinned by the four fundamentals of public ownership, balance sheet separation, good governance, and Treaty partnership,” Nanaia Mahuta says.

The New Zealand Herald reported that the co-governance aspect of Three Waters reform has survived the select committee process.

As it noted, co-governance wasn’t mentioned directly in Mahuta’s statement, but she confirmed the select committee process had prompted a change to the representation of rural councils.

3 thoughts on “Recommendations in select committee’s hefty report do little to dilute Mahuta’s Three Waters legislation

  1. Absolutely indefensible, dictatorial abuse of political power.
    Consultation is superficial at best, consideration of submissions cursory and selective rather than comprehensive. Undoubtedly this is the practical face of the Jacksonian “new democracy “ – formerly known as directive Marxism, as espoused by the WEF and Josef Stalin among others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It really worries me to think there are still fools out there believing this bunch of unemployable misfits are doing a great job . . . wait till they all need to get out of bed and earn their dole, state houses, and other welfare bludges for their WEF/UN masters.


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