Nanaia Mahuta's just pushed the nuclear button on the Three Waters reform and potentially picked herself a big fight.
The Minister for Local Government has done exactly as predicted and announced she’s confiscating the water assets of every single council and territorial authority up and down this country.
She’s had to confiscate the assets, because after asking nicely, the vast majority of local bodies told her no, they wouldn’t willingly hand them over.
This has the potential to go badly for Mahuta and the Labour Government in so many ways, but here are the three most obvious problems.
Number one: The confiscation issue. Who likes having their assets confiscated off them? Answer: no one. So, you can expect ratepayers up and down this country to object to that big time.
Number two: The Māori issue. The water infrastructure confiscated from your council, will be given to four new big organisations. They will be governed by a group appointed in a complicated system starting with a fifty –fifty power sharing of the local council and the local iwi.
Let’s not beat around the bush here; that is going to raise the hackles of a lot of people who see this as giving power to unelected iwi who haven’t funded the assets, and that’s a potential problem for Labour because they are seen to be pushing too hard on Māori issues. So, they’ve only got themselves to blame if they get a racially-charged backlash on this.
Number three: The election issue. The confiscations might be law this year, but they don’t’ take effect until 2024. But between now and then we have two sets of elections. The local government elections next year, and then the central government elections in 2023.
So Mahuta has just given mayoral candidates and council candidates in every single territorial authority something to complain about next year. And they will. And the targets of their complaints will be Mahuta, Labour and confiscation and iwi governance.
It cannot be good to have election campaigns up and down New Zealand fought on whether Labour are a “revolting pack of thieving liars” as one councillor said today.
So, politically, this feels like a bad idea all round.
Heather du Plessis-Allan is a journalist and commentator who hosts Newstalk ZB's Drive show.
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