THOMAS CRANMER: A government humiliated

National’s deputy leader, Nicola Willis, applied one of the many lashings that the government received in the House this week:  ‘Today we have the grovelling back-down, but the stain on our democracy, the damage to our constitution, will remain.’  THOMAS CRANMER writes – 

As much as the government tried to maintain the line repeated by the Prime Minister yesterday that, “We voted for it as a team, we’re fixing it as a team”, the cracks in a divided caucus and dysfunctional leadership team were all too evident.

When Minister Mahuta, the chief architect of the Three Waters reforms, stood up in the House last Wednesday evening to respond to SOP 285 tabled by Eugenie Sage, she said that the amendment would test the will of the House. Perhaps only her closest confidants understood that the Minister intended to test the will of her own colleagues to a far greater degree than that of the opposition.

Whilst it is impossible to determine with any certainty what Labour’s caucus understood it would be voting for during the Committee of the Whole stage and who Labour’s chief whip took his instructions from when he applied Labour’s party vote in favour of SOP 285, the effect of Mahuta’s power play has been to expose the two rival camps within Cabinet which remain unreconciled following yesterday’s reversal. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: A government humiliated”

THOMAS CRANMER:  ‘New Zealand has been duped’


‘New Zealand has been duped’was the view expressed by National’s Maureen Pugh in the House this week, but despite opposition from National and Act, the Water Services Entities Bill passed its second reading.  THOMAS CRANMER writes:

This week, the Water Services Entities Bill passed its second reading in the House with Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori voting in favour, and National and Act voting against.

It was, in truth, an entirely predictable debate with both sides of the House talking past each other. But the opposition speakers did highlight some of the most egregious problems with the Bill. Here is a selection of some of their substantive objections (with my own emphasis added in bold).

National’s Simon Watts highlighted the potential transfer of parks and reserves to the WSEs and the broadening of the scope for the Te Mana o te Wai statements:

Explicitly, two changes in the bill. One is about including green infrastructure like parks and reserves. They are lining up local parks and reserves to be transferred to these mega entities, and the Minister pretty much categorically agreed with that yesterday in the House. They are also expanding the Te Mana o te Wai statement to include coastal and geothermal waters—under the radar, three waters has become five waters. This Government is intent on a control agenda which will be detrimental to this country’s future.

Act’s Simon Court pointed out that the government’s bottom line of balance sheet separation is no more than a fiction: Continue reading THOMAS CRANMER:  ‘New Zealand has been duped’

THOMAS CRANMER: The Three Waters select committee reports back

On Friday, Parliament’s cross-party Finance and Expenditure Committee reported back after five months’ work on the Water Services Entities Bill. As expected, it rearranged some deck chairs THOMAS CRANMER writes… 

On Friday, Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta issued a press statement welcoming the proposed recommendations to improve the workability of water reform legislation which had been made by the Finance and Expenditure Committee.

“I thank the committee for its careful consideration of more than 80,000 submissions and welcome its recommendations. As the result of listening to public submissions, extensive changes have been proposed,” said Minister Mahuta.

Like so much of the Minister’s rhetoric, it bore only a loose association with reality. It was left to National to make the observation that the committee received some 88,383 submissions but only heard 227 oral submissions. Of the over 16,000 submissions administered by the National Party, over 1,600 requested an in-person submission, and the committee offered less than 12 this opportunity. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: The Three Waters select committee reports back”

Thomas Cranmer: Three Waters and the Water Services Entities

WE ARE TOLD the water services entities will be independent bodies run by professional boards – but how independent will these entities really be and who will sit on their boards?

This article is the fourth in a series by Thomas Cranmer, the pseudonym adopted by a legal analyst who has been carefully dissecting the Three Waters legislation.  He writes: 

Whilst co-governance has been an undeniable source of contention during the Three Waters reforms, the Government has repeatedly reminded the public that this is only a feature of the Regional Representative Groups and will not be a feature at the operational level of the structure. When the Water Services Entities Bill was introduced to the House, Minister Mahuta reiterated this point in an interview with RNZ:

“In fact, co-management arrangements are at the strategic level – that is not at the professional board level – who will have a focus group of directors to undertake that role.”

In her speech to the House Mahuta highlighted this fact by stating that:

“… the entity boards will be made up of people hired for their expertise and skill in water services delivery.”

Sounds simple enough – but is this really the case?

As we know, the Regional Representative Groups are made up of a 50:50 split between council representatives and those appointed by mana whenua.

The RRGs are required to set up a Board Appointment Committee who collectively have expertise in relation to performance monitoring and governance; network infrastructure industries; the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi; and perspectives of mana whenua, mātauranga, tikanga and te ao Māori.

It will be that Board Appointment Committee which will prepare an appointment policy that sets out the collective or individual experience, qualifications, skills, or expertise required of members of the water services entity’s board.

In fact Eugenie Sage was more revealing in her speech to the House than Minister Mahuta when considering the boards of the water entities:

“The regional representative groups will appoint the committee which appoints the board of the water services entity. Those boards are to be competency based. Those competencies include mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, and an understanding of Te Ao Māori.”

The risk, of course, is that this process will select only those individuals that hold the same radical views on the Treaty and related matters as the current Government and that cultural correctness will overshadow technical expertise.

Ironically, although the Bill states that in making an appointment, the board appointment committee must take into account the desirability of promoting diversity in the membership of the board, one gets the feeling that there will not be diversity of thought.

And in the case of any technical experts that are appointed to the board, the Bill also provides that it maintains systems and processes for the continuing education of all board members to gain knowledge of, and experience and expertise in relation to, the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi. In other words, everyone is going to get with the programme.

Once appointed, things don’t get any better. The Bill is exceptionally clear in requiring that anyone exercising duties, functions or powers under it (including the water entity boards), must give effect to the Treaty and to Te Mana o te Wai – the only matter that this principle is subject to is that Treaty settlement obligations must prevail over everything.

This is the foundational non-negotiable principle of the Bill – not the improvement of water delivery services which features lower down the pecking order.

Each water service entity will have a constitution – currently being prepared by the Government – which could also include additional qualifications or requirements for the directors as well as placing other requirements on the board.

Thus whilst each board of a water entity will be accountable to the relevant Regional Representative Group, they will also be required to engage with, and understand the perspectives of mana whenua which includes giving effect to the Te Mana o te Wai statements issued from time to time.

In addition, each of the water service entities will be incurring substantial amounts of debt in the international financial markets and will therefore also need to comply with the terms and requirements of that debt and manage a large syndicate of international creditors.

The Government, too, has an opportunity to periodically issue a policy statement which can set out its priorities for water services, its expectations in relation to Māori interests, partnering with mana whenua and giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai, and how it expects water services entities to take into account the well-being of communities.

Overseeing compliance, as the service regulator, will be Taumata Arowai – and specifically the sister of Minister Mahuta, in her role as Chair of the Maori Advisory Group.

There is currently consideration being given as to how economic and consumer regulation of the entities will be structured.

Lastly, and somewhat forgotten in this legislation, are the consumers and ratepayers upon whom all of the risk of this structure falls and who will have their own set of expectations by which they will measure the boards. There will, rightly, be intense public scrutiny of the performance of the water entities boards.

All of this gives one the impression that the boards will be pulled in many different directions at once. It would appear that their skills will need to include multi-tasking, people-pleasing and pulling rabbits out of hats.

For the headhunters it will be a tough (but presumably profitable) gig to fill the board seats although I’m sure Minister Mahuta will have a few suggestions.

To anyone considering taking a seat on one of these boards my advice is to remember Homer:

If you serve too many masters, you’ll soon suffer

Thomas Cranmer: Three Waters, Te Mana o te Wai and a control mechanism the Govt is providing for the sole use of mana whenua

Thomas Cranmer is  the pseudonym adopted by a legal analyst who has been carefully dissecting the Three Waters legislation and tweeting his findings on Twitter.

Over some months, he has been unpicking the threads of the Three Waters command structure to reveal the extent of the control being gifted to Māori over water.

This is the first of a series of articles he is posting on the Three Waters issues…

Three Waters and Te Mana o te Wai

Deep within the Water Services Entities Bill is a mechanism that will have significant  influence at the operating level of the structure – it is a mechanism that is only available to mana whenua.

By the Government’s own admission the Three Waters reform is a highly complicated proposal made necessary by the need to upgrade our existing water infrastructure whilst upholding the Crown’s Treaty obligations. But despite its complexity the public has been repeatedly assured in plain and simple terms that co-governance will not give Maori ownership or control of water assets. Continue reading “Thomas Cranmer: Three Waters, Te Mana o te Wai and a control mechanism the Govt is providing for the sole use of mana whenua”