Graham Adams: The government is stumbling towards disaster over Three Waters


The Opposition parties must be watching with glee, writes Graham Adams, as councils reject Nanaia Mahuta’s plan for drinking water, stormwater and wastewater.


Even Labour’s most one-eyed supporters must be aware by now that the Three Waters reform being pushed by Nanaia Mahuta is fast becoming a make-or-break issue for the government. The eight-week “engagement” period that ended on September 30 saw a swathe of councils across the nation objecting — sometimes angrily — to the proposed changes to the management of drinking water, storm water and wastewater.

Mahuta’s plan is for the 67 councils’ water services to be merged into four giant regional authorities that ratepayers will not directly own or control. As National’s Chris Luxon says, councils are rightly worried about “not having direct influence and no shareholding or formal stake in the new entity whatsoever”.

The roll call of disaffected councils includes those overseeing our two biggest cities. Between them, Auckland and Christchurch represent nearly two million inhabitants — or roughly 40 per cent of New Zealand’s population.

Furthermore, their mayors — Phil Goff and Lianne Dalziel — are former high-ranking Labour ministers, which makes dismissing their opposition difficult.

The rhetoric from Christchurch councillors, in particular, has been incendiary. One, James Gough, said the proposal showed disregard for democracy, and was nothing short of “blatant asset theft”. Continue reading “Graham Adams: The government is stumbling towards disaster over Three Waters”

Three Waters – Mahuta seems curiously bemused by the numbers of mayors who aren’t buying into her reform plan

When the rising tide of dissatisfaction about a key reform programme has reached a minister’s neck, it seems smart to consider turning off a tap, if not pulling the plug.      

But not Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.  She is reported to be defending the Three Waters reform amid mounting criticism of the sort that was described like this in an Otago Daily Times editorial late last week:

“Opposition to the Government’s ambitious Three Waters plan is substantial, and for good reasons.”

The Three Waters are storm, drinking and wastewater.  

But although too much is unknown and/or uncertain about the government’s reform, the ODT noted, submissions from councils are to close at the end of the month.

Southern mayors have asked the Government to slow down the process and allow time for meaningful public engagement.

“This is the very least that should happen.”

Opposition to Mahuta’s grand design has been recorded throughout the country. 

Curiously, the Minister says she is “curious” about why she isn’t riding a winner – a remark that suggests she hasn’t bothered finding out. Continue reading “Three Waters – Mahuta seems curiously bemused by the numbers of mayors who aren’t buying into her reform plan”

How Ngai Tahu will be flush with governance powers under water reforms – but not in all parts of the South Island

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.

Local government leaders can show Waititi how to dispose of democracy and adopt a Treaty-based system of representation

Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi was preaching to a powerful army of converts among local government leaders when he said New Zealand should forget about this democracy thing and adopt a Treaty-based system of government.

If he was accurately reported, Waititi expressed his belief that some citizens – by virtue of their race – should be more equal than others.

Can you guess which ones?

According to Newshub, he said:

“We need to start looking at how Maori can participate more equally and equitably in that particular space in a tiriti-centric Aotearoa. Not in a democracy, because… democracy is majority rules, and indigenous peoples – especially Maori at 16 percent of the population in this country – will lose out, and we’ll sit in second-place again.”

He rejected suggestions abandoning a simple democracy for a “tiriti-centric” system would lead to separatism.

“We’ve been on the road to separatism for 180 years. If we look at a tiriti-centric Aotearoa, we’ll probably be the best nation in the world heading down this track.” Continue reading “Local government leaders can show Waititi how to dispose of democracy and adopt a Treaty-based system of representation”

Mahuta flushes out data to show water reforms will save big bucks but critics say they make the Treaty more important than pipes

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. Continue reading “Mahuta flushes out data to show water reforms will save big bucks but critics say they make the Treaty more important than pipes”

Water and the co-governing numbers caper in which 68,000 Ngai Tahu might carry the same clout as 750,000 South Islanders

The news media hastened to air Ngai Tahu’s prompt rebuttal of Opposition leader Judith Collins claim that the Government would be giving the tribe an ownership stake in the South Island’s water and water assets.

It has not been so hasty to clearly explain the implications of what Ngai Tahu does want.

Collins referred to a document which – she said – meant South Island water services would be co-owned by Ngai Tahu and the Government.

Not so, was the prompt and tart rebuttal from the tribe and from central and local government leaders.

Co-governance maybe, co-ownership no.

But what does co-governance mean for the administrative structure?

At first blush, vital questions of democratic governance and accountability are raised.

In a press statement from Hobson’s Choice (not published by news media or posted by Scoop or Voxy) the implications are simply spelled out.

  • 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”.

If you prefer to use 2018 census figures, they show Maori comprise 110,301 (10%) of a total South Island population of 1,104,531

The 23 local authorities, by the way, serve ALL of the people who live within their boundaries.

The tribe’s political ambitions are no secret – they are reflected in a claim in the High Court, reported on the Ngai Tahu website in an article headed Enough is enough – why Ngāi Tahu is suing the Crown over its waterways.

 In a legal first, Ngāi Tahu has lodged a statement of claim in the High Court seeking recognition of rangatiratanga over its awa and moana, to address the ongoing degradation caused by the environmental mismanagement. 

 According to the article:

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu as the representative body of Ngāi Tahu, and 15 tribal leaders, are asking the courts to make declarations that we have rangatiratanga over the wai māori (freshwater) of our takiwā, and that the Crown should engage with us to jointly design a better system to manage and care for our precious waterways.

Rangatiratanga is not ownership. Owning something means using it however you like.

Rangatiratanga as a concept and a practice encompasses rights, responsibilities and obligations. And that includes the obligation to do what we can to stop the continued degradation of our freshwater systems.


We are seeking to have the Government work and co-operate with us to design a better system for water management, one that protects our environment, while still ensuring wai māori for food production and development.

In her press statement, Collins said the Government was advancing plans to transfer 50 per cent of publicly-owned water assets in the South Island to Ngāi Tahu ownership.

She referenced a Department of Internal Affairs document which (she contended) presented the Government’s preferred option for Three Waters reform to 23 mayors and South Island iwi.

The proposal was to consolidate all water infrastructure across the South Island into one organisation.

This new Mainland water agency, which would assume ownership of all water assets and some council debt, was designed to be 50 per cent owned by Ngāi Tahu.

This would mean councils that had invested ratepayer money in pipes, wastewater and drinking water facilities for decades would have these assets taken away.

This is yet another example of Labour adopting a view that the Treaty of Waitangi promises ‘dual-governance’ of core government services like drinking water, health and local government, Ms Collins says.


“ … Labour has now decided the Treaty requires separate systems of governance and fifty-fifty ownership of resources with iwi, and it is making these changes before having a national conversation about whether this is actually what the Treaty decrees.”

Her comments were denounced by Ngai Tahu as “deceptive” and by Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins, who said they were aimed at creating “fear and division”.

There had been no discussion of Ngai Tahu co-ownership of water assets, “but even if there was, it wouldn’t be worth beating the drum and fear-mongering over”, Hawkins said.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, chairman of a group representing Otago and Southland’s 10 city, district and regional councils in discussing the reforms, said it was “imperative we stick to the facts”.

“To come out and say it’s co-ownership or co-governance, it’s way too early to make calls like that.”

But if if it’s not co-ownership or co-governance, what are we talking about?

Cadogan did not explain what was being discussed – apparently because he does not know.

He did acknowledge the reforms were the biggest issue facing local government for at least a generation, and involved crucial issues of democracy and councils’ future liabilities, as well as Ngai Tahu’s role.

But he said councils remained “woefully short on detail” about what was being proposed, and he had called a meeting on May 28 with Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta, who has ministerial responsibility for the reforms, Ngai Tahu and Department of Internal Affairs officials to address that.

Dr Te Maire Tau, co-chairman of Ngai Tahu freshwater governance group Te Kura Taka Pini, said

“Ngai Tahu wants to design the structure of the new entity with the Crown, and share governance responsibilities.

“The tribe has a huge interest in the water infrastructure in the South Island. We’re like the rest of South Island communities, particularly because we’re rural, and we fundamentally don’t have clean drinking water.”

Co-governance would provide a safeguard against any future government that wanted to privatise the waters assets that were being transferred from councils, he said.

The PM was terse when asked in Parliament why the Department of Internal Affairs had presented “as a preferred option to 23 South Island mayors and iwi a document proposing co-ownership of South Island drinking water”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: They did not.

She was nudged to tell a bit more.

Hon Judith Collins: Is the Prime Minister now telling the House that this document here, that was presented to 23 mayors and iwi and says, “Owners are the Canterbury councils and Ngāi Tahu, who are responsible for appointing representatives to the JGG.”—is that not what it says?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m happy to correct the member. I’m advised that that piece of work was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu. It was prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and it is not something that Ngāi Tahu or, of course, the Government, who did not commission it, have been pursuing.

Hon Judith Collins: So when the Prime Minister is now telling the House that this document is the fault of Ngāi Tahu, is she now saying it was not presented by the Department of Internal Affairs at the hui that were being conducted by it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m actually rejecting the content of the question. I’m advised that it was commissioned by Ngāi Tahu. It’s not a question of blame.

Hon Judith Collins: Who presented the document to the 23 South Island mayors and iwi?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It was prepared and commissioned by PwC. It has not been pursued, I’m advised, by either Ngāi Tahu or, indeed, by the Government.

The PM did rule out joint ownership of water infrastructure in the South Island between Ngāi Tahu and councils, as suggested in the document Collins had brandished. 

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Public ownership has always been a bottom line, so not only have we ruled that out; Ngāi Tahu have ruled it out.

But the co-ownership issue remains to be sorted out, apparently.

David Seymour: Will the Prime Minister rule out co-governance of water infrastructure between Ngāi Tahu and councils, as also suggested in this document, under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have been very clear on ownership structure. When it comes to the issue of governance of water services, the Government, local government—and, yes, alongside local government there has been good engagement with iwi, and local government themselves have been driving that, too. Those decisions are yet to be made, but we are very clear on ownership.

Collins attempted to pin down the PM on the meaning of co-governance.

Fat chance.

Hon Judith Collins: What does the Prime Minister believe is co-governance of drinking water in the South Island?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Ultimately, this has all been driven by the fact that in Havelock North we had people who got extraordinarily sick, and some who died, as a result of us not having consistent provision around either water regulation, making sure that regulations are upheld, or that our water infrastructure is sufficient. Currently, we have over the next 30 to 40 years $120 billion to $185 billion worth of investment required in infrastructure. What we are starting is a discussion with local government around how we deal with that significant infrastructure gap and investment when currently $1.5 billion, or $45 billion over the next 30 years, is how much local government is likely to invest. That is the problem we’re trying to address, and I would welcome the member’s engagement on that issue.

But when did the discussion start and who has been involved?

A DIA report on consultations on the Three Waters Reform Programme says that between September and October 2020, members of the Three Waters Reform Team and Taumata Arowai conducted a series of hui to engage with iwi, hapū and Māori throughout the country.

The meetings had been attended by over 300 representatives from many different iwi, hapū and Māori organisations.

The meetings had highlighted many emerging issues that have the potential to impact iwi, hapū and Māori throughout the country.

The issues aired in the report “have been themed according to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to reflect the matters as they relate to Māori as Treaty Partners”.

There was resounding support throughout the hui-ā-motu for a stronger partnership between tangata whenua and the Crown. Many attendees reflected, that if done well, this reform programme is an opportunity to develop/improve this relationship.


DIA heard that it needs to ensure tangata whenua are embedded as Treaty Partners from the very start, including mana whenua representation at every table, on boards and anywhere decisions will be made. It is important DIA alongside iwi, hapū and Māori work through rights, interests and entity ownership and governance, so the Department can identify the roles and responsibilities of all, as Treaty Partners, at these levels.

 Yet at least one South Island mayor – along with most of the rest of the country, who have yet to be consulted – says he knows little about what is going on.

Something is shamefully wrong with the reform process and it most certainly is not democratic.  

Iwi were given voting rights on Hastings council committees in 2019 – and now the Maori voice is being amplified

Two years ago we reported on the Battle of Hastings, 2019. On one side, the stalwarts of democracy were intent on defending their concept of the best form of government for their district.  On the other side were the champions of attenuated lines of accountability between citizens and those who govern them.

The democrats were outnumbered and the Hastings District Council voted to fortify iwi influence by appointing four members of the Maori Joint Committee to the council’s four standing committees with voting rights.

Waatea News reported news of the vote under the heading Hastings to hear Māori voice.

This mischievously overlooked the full contents of a council press statement which noted: Continue reading “Iwi were given voting rights on Hastings council committees in 2019 – and now the Maori voice is being amplified”

Luxon might consider asking about the need for iwi appointees to sit on council committees after Maori wards are established

National’s local government spokesman, Christopher Luxon, said his party welcomed the review of local government recently announced by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

National supported the Future of Local Government review, he said.

But he cautioned that the Ardern government had shown time and again it has an appetite for amalgamation.

He referenced charter schools, polytechnics and DHBs.

“This review cannot become a byword for centralisation or an opportunity for power to be taken away from ratepayers. It’s crucial that outcomes are led by communities, not by central government.”

 But Luxon didn’t make much fuss (not that we could find, at least) when the Wellington City Council voted to give voting rights to iwi representatives appointed to sit on an array of council committees at the same time as it was considering proposals (since given the go-ahead) to introduce a Maori ward. Continue reading “Luxon might consider asking about the need for iwi appointees to sit on council committees after Maori wards are established”

Capital thinking on decolonisation – give voting rights to tribal appointees on council committees and mute the voice of non-Maori

Eight Wellington City Councillors – given the critical constitutional choice of Treaty partnership or democracy – yesterday voted in favour of further undermining the council’s democratic election and decision-making structures by granting voting rights to the representatives appointed by Maori tribes to sit on council committees.

Only six councillors voted against an arrangement to allow one representative from each of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika and Ngāti Toa Rangatira to sit on most council committees and subcommittees with full voting rights from 1 July.

The council will reimburse each tribe by paying an annual fee, equivalent to the remuneration of a full time elected member, which is currently $111,225.

Some councillors egregiously magnified their anti-democratic instincts by rebuking the Mayor (as the Dominion-Post reports) for

“ … putting forward an amendment calling for the ‘significant’ change to be put out for public feedback before going to a council vote.”

Curiously, the words “significant” has been put in quotes.

Does the newspaper think otherwise?

Apparently yes, because its report of this governance vote (relegated to Page 4 this morning)  focused on Mayor Andy Foster being accused of “delay tactics” for suggesting the proposal be taken to the public for discussion.

One councillor, Jenny Condie, said the proposal did not require formal public feedback because it would be “rectifying an injustice”.

But shouldn’t the public be allowed to assess the nature of this injustice and influence the remedy? Continue reading “Capital thinking on decolonisation – give voting rights to tribal appointees on council committees and mute the voice of non-Maori”

Guidance in good governance is called for – Wellington City won’t get a commissioner (not yet) but Wainuiomata lane vote will be revisited

Local body governance in the Wellington region has been found wanting in the past day or so.  City councillors in Wellington and community board members in Wainuiomata are being pressed to seek instruction on how to do a better job.

The decisions of Wellington City’s fractious councillors have huge implications for the rates burden. Those of the Wainuiomata Community Board – where cultural education is being recommended – demonstrate how a vote is prone to be overturned if local Maori are affronted.

For now, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has ruled out appointing a Crown commissioner for Wellington City Council where councillors have been wrangling over the future of the city’s central library.

According to Stuff:

The idea of a Crown observer or commissioner overseeing the council has been raised several times over the past year, and has come up again following disagreements over plans to privatise parts of the library building.

But that’s not the end of it, because … . Continue reading “Guidance in good governance is called for – Wellington City won’t get a commissioner (not yet) but Wainuiomata lane vote will be revisited”