THOMAS CRANMER: Three Waters passes but at what cost?

The government has paid a huge political cost in pushing through the Three Waters legislation, and in doing so has exposed rifts within Cabinet and damaged the reputation of Minister Mahuta.  THOMAS CRANMER writes – 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a government with a reputation for profligacy resolved to spend so much of its political capital to push through the deeply unpopular Three Waters bill into law this week.  The full cost is yet to be tallied but from the look of their shell-shocked faces as they sat in Parliament, Labour MPs are starting to realize that a good number of them will be paying with their jobs when the general election arrives next year.

Even the once-imperious Minister Mahuta has been damaged by the passage of this Bill into law. Ignoring many valid concerns raised by opposition parties, councils, iwi and the public, the Minister pushed too hard in the closing stages of the legislative process. First, by expanding the scope of Te Mana o te Wai to cover geothermal and coastal waters, and then in the breathtakingly brazen attempt to entrench a point of policy into law.

Both issues were not understood by the Minister’s Cabinet colleagues, which left them woefully exposed when they were questioned by the media and opposition parties.

The effect is that the Minister looks less like an experienced lawmaker and more like a reckless chancer who pulled a number on her own parliamentary colleagues. Undoubtedly this has damaged Mahuta’s reputation at what could be a difficult time for her to navigate. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: Three Waters passes but at what cost?”

THOMAS CRANMER: Questions remain over the appointment of Tuku Morgan

Many questions remain unanswered about the appointment of Tuku Morgan to his new Three Waters role, and the reforms are set to speed up once this Bill is passed into law.  THOMAS CRANMER writes – 

Four weeks after Tuku Morgan issued a press statement confirming that he had been appointed as chairperson of the entity A iwi representative group for Three Waters questions still remain as to the process for that appointment. It also remains unclear why it was considered appropriate to appoint Morgan to a role within entity A when he had represented entity B in working group discussions only months earlier.

As well as confirming his new role, Morgan’s statement included the following:

“While it is easy and convenient for Auckland Council and Watercare to keep increasing the water take from our awa tupuna to supply water to Taamaki Makaurau, it is not sustainable.”

Following the announcement I asked the Department of Internal Affairs for some details about Morgan’s appointment process. A spokesperson responded: Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: Questions remain over the appointment of Tuku Morgan”

THOMAS CRANMER: Mahuta ditches the ‘no surprises’ policy

As Cabinet Ministers have been blindsided by developments in the Three Waters legislation, the events of last Wednesday night give a glimpse of the power politics that are at play within government.  THOMAS CRANMER writes: 

As the furore over the government’s attempted entrenchment of the anti-privatisation provision within the Three Waters legislation continues to buffer the government, Ministers could be forgiven for thinking that their ‘no surprises’ policy has been replaced with something rather more dramatic.

Last week, the Prime Minister was blindsided when Barry Soper asked for an explanation about the expansion of elements of the reforms to include geothermal and coastal waters. Ministers Robertson and Woods similarly both confessed to not knowing anything about the change. It gave the impression of a Cabinet that had lost its grip on Three Waters. More broadly, it raised questions as to who is actually in charge. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: Mahuta ditches the ‘no surprises’ policy”

THOMAS CRANMER: Five Waters and a Park

As the government looks to push through the Water Services Entities Bill under urgency, it’s busy stuffing as much into its goodie bag as it can. THOMAS CRANMER wrote this ahead of the second reading of the Bill –

One week on from Parliament’s cross-party Finance and Expenditure Committee report on the Water Services Entities Bill, questions are starting to be raised about some of their recommendations.

On Monday, an excellent article from Graham Adams rightly identified the expansion of Te Mana o te Wai statements to include coastal and geothermal waters as constituting extraordinary mission creep – effectively transforming Three Waters into Five Waters. This eye-opening development has raised alarm bells amongst some commentators.

Coupled with that, a subtle change in the draft Bill has occurred. A section dealing with the preservation of rights and interests in water – which was previously positioned near the end of the Bill in clause 201 has been moved to a prominent position at the front of the Bill, where it now features as clause 9A, immediately after the clause on Treaty settlement obligations. This is a key provision for many iwi as it preserves their arguments over customary rights in water – it is the debate over who owns the water in New Zealand. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: Five Waters and a Park”

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.”

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

Thomas Cranmer: Three Waters and One Mountain of Debt

The proposed debt financing of Three Waters has received little coverage in the media but it brings its own set of risks to the reforms which could turn out to be ruinous for the country’s finances. 

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

Before starting on a discussion of the proposed debt financing of Three Waters, I have a disclosure to make: whilst on Substack I am usually writing on topics that interest me based on my general knowledge and experience as a lawyer, in this instance I am writing as a lawyer who has practised as a leveraged finance and restructuring expert for 25+ years – starting in New Zealand at one of our leading law firms and then, for many years in the UK. I’ve acted for borrowers, banks, hedge funds and private equity sponsors putting these deals together and then restructuring them more times than I care to remember.

The majority of these deals are in multiple jurisdictions including the US, Europe, MENA and Asia Pacific and cover all manner of sectors including utilities and privatised government assets. I failed at becoming an All Black or a writer, so this is my bag. Continue reading “Thomas Cranmer: Three Waters and One Mountain of Debt”

Thomas Cranmer:  Three Waters and the vexed question of ownership


At the heart of the Three Waters debate is a question that has been contentious since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – what does ownership really mean and is it the same as rangatiratanga?

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

My old Māori Studies lecturer, Dr Ranginui Walker described it as the “abyss of meaning” when considering the English and Māori versions of the, Treaty of Waitangi – newly constructed words that were attempting to encapsulate old, and in some cases, nebulous, concepts. At the heart of the Treaty debate is rangatiratanga, a word which Walker describes in his book ‘Struggle without End’ as:

“… a missionary neologism derived from rangatira (chief), which, with the addition of the suffix tanga, becomes chieftainship. Now the guarantee of chieftainship is in effect a guarantee of sovereignty, because an inseparable component of chieftainship is mana whenua. Without land a chief’s mana and that of his people is negated.” Continue reading Thomas Cranmer:  Three Waters and the vexed question of ownership

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”