Journalists hastened to work out what’s up for grabs in various bits of the country after the PM announced a $2.5 billion package for New Zealand’s 67 councils, if they opted in to the government’s water reforms.
This (we were reminded) follows $761m being given to councils for water infrastructure upgrades in July last year.
The media didn’t devote too much energy to examining how and/or why the boundary lines will be fixed when the responsibility for drinking water, wastewater, and storm water infrastructure is shifted from councils to four regional entities or the governance implications of having Three Waters boundaries aligned with tribal boundaries.
For example (as you will find towards the end of this Stuff report):
Under the proposed water reforms, Blenheim and Richmond could be lumped in with a largely North Island water entity covering from Wellington to Gisborne, while Seddon and Murchison could be tied in with the rest of the South Island.
Six elected members would represent 21 South Island councils in an arms-length governance role. Up to six others would have a governance role to represent mana whenua.
This regional entity would cover the majority of the South Island except for parts of Marlborough, Tasman and Nelson.
Cabinet papers showed Marlborough and Tasman could be split between two water entities to align with iwi boundaries.
Like most of the South Island, Seddon and Murchison were part of Ngāi Tahu’s takiwā (territory), so had been added to Entity ‘D’ with other cities in the takiwā, such as Christchurch.
The rest of Marlborough and Tasman had been included in Entity ‘C’, along with Nelson, Wellington, Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.
This suggests Ngai Tahu won’t get a governance grip on the whole of the South Island’s water-system infrastructure and its management,
It will do nicely, thank you, nevertheless.
These details call for an adjustment of the numbers in a press statement from Hobson’s Choice a few weeks ago (which news media did not publish and which Scoop and Voxy did not post):
- One lot of co-governors would represent Ngai Tahu, a tribal business entity that claims the affiliation of 68,000 people,
- The other lot would represent 23 councils which “may represent 750,000 people”.
Point of Order suggested another measure of the governance power being given without a blush or much explanation to southern Maori – bring 2018 census figures into the reckoning. These show Maori comprise 110,301 (10%) of a total South Island population of 1,104,531.
While Stuff (and other media) have shied from too closely examining or explaining the muscle Maori tribes might flex under Three Waters governance arrangements, it does say some elected members from both the city and rural districts have raised concerns about the lack of control locals would have over the proposed new South Island entity.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s objections fundamentally are matters of ownership, control, governance and accountability.
Another critical question for ratepayers is the extent to which hefty rates increases being considered by several councils – largely to pay for neglected water-system infrastructure – can be modified.
Ardern said $500m of the package – which National Party leader Judith Collins and others called a bribe to buy compliance from local governments – would directly help councils during the transition phase of the reforms. The rest would ensure councils were better off financially once water infrastructure was taken off their books.
Savings to ratepayers are a critical consideration in favour of the reforms. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta says these would amount to thousands of dollars a year and ensure the estimated $120 to $185 billion in investment needed in water services over the next 30 years goes ahead.
According to news reports Point of Order checked this morning –
- Christchurch has been offered $122.4 million from the $2bn fund while Selwyn and Waimakariri councils would get $22m each.
But Christchurch councillor Sam MacDonald said $122m was “pretty cheeky” when the council would hand over billions of water assets in the reforms.
- Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman councils have been offered a combined $66.2 million.
- Auckland Council would receive almost $509 million under the proposal.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff remains unconvinced. He said:
“The issue at stake here is about responsiveness and accountability to the people of Auckland through their elected representatives,” he said.
“We have real concerns about the governance structure proposed by the Government, which would remove mechanisms currently in place to ensure that Watercare is accountable to Aucklanders.”
Goff insists the council should be able to determine board directors and the strategic direction of the new water authority through a statement of intent.
He reportedly said the Government’s model would effectively remove Auckland Council’s control and influence over about 28 per cent of Auckland’s assets and 25 per cent of its expenditure.
“This risks creating a new water entity that is unresponsive to the communities it serves, and removes our ability to ensure that Aucklanders’ needs are put first,” Goff said.
But the PM says overhauling our drinking, waste and stormwater services will benefit all New Zealand communities, no matter where they are in the country.