By any measure, the Government’s sweeping Three Waters reform agenda has devolved into a debacle. Its credibility is shot. The multi-million-dollar advertising blitz, which had you believe that sludge is pouring out of your taps, has come to symbolise the shonkiness of this reform programme.The sales job has been a sensationalist, demeaning and grossly misleading. The financial assumptions that underpin the switch to four merged entities have been widely pilloried. Most councils insist the data and figures flawed, inflated and unreliable – with the touted benefits being grossly exaggerated.
There’s also the matter of Local Government New Zealand. They were stitched up by Wellington, and swallowed the bait, foolishly signing up to a head of agreement that tacitly supports an all-out takeover of council assets. LGNZ didn’t even bother to engage with their member councils, before signing up to this deal in July. They now face a crisis of confidence.
But back to the reform model. All of the council feedback is in. And at last count, only six of our 67 district and city councils have indicated any desire to opt in to the reform programme, or any support for these four mega-regional entities.
The Beehive hasn’t indicated any such willingness to pull in the reins, despite the towering wall of opposition they’re up against. Now I don’t if Nanaia Mahuta is aloof, arrogant or autocratic. Maybe she’s a mixture of all three – but her defence of this reform agenda in the House has been atrocious.
And she’s now shifting the blame onto councils for failing to secure public support for these mega-mergers. She is refusing to rule out the confiscation of council’s water assets and services, which I suspect is what she desires is done, before Christmas.
But that’s a hell of a tall order. And ultimately, this will be a Captains Call. How much political capital does the Prime Minister really want to fry on this ridiculously over-cooked model? They should rip it up and rework it, based on the feedback, to find a better vehicle to drive the reforms and the promised efficiency savings.
Mike Yardley is a writer and broadcaster - including with Newstalk ZB.