Nanaia Mahuta is quite correct to state that the three water reforms are not about shifting ownership of council assets to Government control. Ownership of assets is not needed as the Government seems to regard ownership as a very fleeting thing. The three waters reforms are obviously about the redistribution and control of those vital assets to a new entity made up entirely of Ministerial appointments.
Ownership, even by councils is now far from essential if a government can legislate to subjugate ownership of land and water use rights to political control for political advantage. By applying this understanding, the once murky three waters rationale becomes crystal clear.
The current government three waters reform is more about locking in the Government’s Maori caucus, the Maori Party, and the Green Party as we move towards co -governance of New Zealand. Readers will also be aware of claims to fresh water filed with the courts by Maori interests. The back door is now wide open for the stalking horse of re-distribution to co-governance. (see Maori Health Authority /demise of DHBs/ separate tax system/ renaming of New Zealand)
While Maori claims to water is based on the three treaty clauses, it must be remembered that the all-important purpose of the Treaty of Waitangi was to enable British settlers and Maori to live together under a common set of laws. Non Maori were not to be given preferential treatment over the indigenous people. Real concerns for the well-being of Maori at that time is exemplified by two House of Lords select committee inquiries in the late 1830s which delt with how Maori were being treated. The inquiry promoted genuine concerns from humanitarian groups that exposure to disease and maltreatment was threatening the very survival of the race. Today Maori make up a healthy 16% of the population.
The Government is literally testing the waters to see what reaction occurs to this three waters proposal, and to see what level of acceptance by the wider population is allowed before loss of political power occurs.
It is of real concern to note at least two southern mayors are already expressing tacit support for the three waters proposal without any consultation with their ratepayers. They appear not to accept that representative democracy is the tool by which they operate and therefore must seek out and accept the will and most importantly, the authority - given by the majority. It is a great mistake of understanding to believe that our councils and indeed our Parliament is the basis of our freedoms. Both local and central Government politicians are generally most reluctant to defend our collective freedoms.
The three waters proposal and its timing is hardly a surprise. New Zealand is entirely focused with Covid 19 and its variants which affords a perfect time to introduce contentious legislation or “reform” as the Minister calls it.
If a cursory glance is cast at Government schemes to improve the wellbeing of us all, we need look no further than the failure to build the promised 100,000 new homes. The reduction of carbon in the atmosphere is mocked by importing 1million tons of coal this year alone. The mental health issue is not well managed by Government - and so it goes on.
Councils currently control land and water use through a series of regional documents with a variance of success. The big difference with the Minister’s proposal from the current system is that the ratepayer has access to their local body. Try getting an appointment to see a Minister of the Crown any time soon. The Minister will now appoint her representatives to manage the administration of this most vital of all local functions with a likely success rate similar to 100,000 new houses promise.
Perhaps the most ironic part of this proposal is the contention that administration of water is simply recognising this as a right of Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi. It seems rather incongruous that the treaty bestowed upon Maori one of the greatest gifts of all but unrecognized at the time in 1840. That of citizenship and equal status with British citizens. Today people from all over the world clamour to enter Britain and indeed New Zealand due to our laws and judicial system that treats all with equanimity - for the time being.
It is claimed that water is a taonga to Maori which is indisputable. So too is water a taonga to non Maori, especially to those rural folk who rely on water, store water, to benefit families, friends and communities of all races colour and creed.
We are set to be disenfranchised. As with most government ideas and schemes, the theory and the practise are simply incompatible. Author Danielle di Martino Booth quotes a sign found in a remote island off Norway which pretty much sums up the Three Waters proposal. (Paraphrased)
“Theory is when bureaucrats and Ministers understand everything, but nothing works. Practise is when everything works but nobody understands why. In Wellington, theory and practise are united, so nothing works as it should and nobody understands why.”
Welcome to the world of three waters.
Gerry Eckhoff is a former councillor on the Otago Regional Council and MP.