Monday, April 25, 2022

Damien Grant: The shaky claims and untested ideology underpinning Three Waters

I am not philosophically opposed to co-governance and I disagree with David Seymour’s campaign to have a referendum on the issue.

If Māori have a right to be treated as partners and are entitled under the Treaty to enjoy co-governance over an asset, then this right cannot be extinguished because the majority of non-Māori who make up the electorate declare it so.

Equally, if this right does not exist, then imposing it without obtaining the consent of those whose rights are being over-ridden is wrong.

When it comes to the Three Water reforms, it is subordinating the rights of ratepayers to the interests of local iwi, and doing so without consent or compensation.

We have a process for settling Treaty issues. Not everyone agrees with the outcome of a Waitangi Tribunal decision, but almost everyone agrees to abide by their decisions. It isn’t a perfect system but it works better than Molotov cocktails and hunger strikes.

The Three Waters proposals suffer from more than the new governance structures. It is based on shaky claims of poor water quality.

Central to the reform agenda is the claim made by Nanaia Mahuta that 34,000 New Zealanders become ill each year from drinking poor-quality water. This number is softer than a week-old feijoa.

It is drawn from a 2006 report and contains two estimates: 18,000 and 34,000.

The author, ESR scientist Andrew Ball, writes that he does not have the raw data on the level of treatment and concedes that without such information, “ is not feasible to estimate the risk of campylobacter infection from treated drinking-water”.

He makes a few assumptions about what is probable and concludes, “…from these assumptions it can be deduced that 18,000 campylobacteriosis would have arisen from registered water supplies during 2005”.

To get the 34,000 figure Ball takes the total number of gastro cases in 2000 and multiples that by 4.1%, as being his guesswork from earlier analysis on the percentage of stomach bugs due to tainted water, and gets 33,743.

There is better data. Each year the Ministry of Health conducts an audit on water quality. The results are excellent. The worst that happens is sometimes there is a notice to boil water.

Mahuta also likes to reference Havelock North. In August 2016 an outbreak of gastroenteritis sent 45 people to the hospital. According to the report on this event, “it is possible that the outbreak contributed to three deaths”.

It is also possible that no deaths resulted. In short, there isn’t substantial evidence to support the claim of a systemic crisis of water quality in Aotearoa.

There is, to be fair to the minister, a legitimate issue about the level of investment needed, as evidenced by the failure of Wellington’s wastewater system, but I will deal with that in a later column.

Taumata Arowai is the regulatory body set up in response to Havelock North. We can see in this organisation that their focus isn’t solely water quality. According to their website, “Our name Taumata Arowai was gifted to us by Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Local Government”.

Having your name “gifted” by the reigning minister has a North Korean feel to it. This body enjoys a Māori advisory board whom it must consult. The chair of this advisory body is the minister’s sister.

The act that established this body, the Water Services Act 2020, introduces the concept of Te Mana o te Wai. “Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community.”

There are six principles but the key one appears to be, “…the power, authority and obligations of tangata whenua to make decisions that maintain, protect, and sustain the health and wellbeing of, and their relationship with, fresh water.”

Water suppliers, bodies that include Watercare and the guy who owns a single water truck, are encouraged to engage with “…whānau, hapū and iwi Māori in your rohe early and meaningfully when developing your plans”.

Three Waters is the forced divestment from councils of their water assets to one of four new government agencies. Both the councils and iwi get to appoint an equal number of members to a regional representative group. This body appoints the board. This is where the triumph of ideology over engineering really kicks up a notch.

Board members must, by law, have a collective knowledge, understanding and experience of the principles of the Treaty, matauranga, tikanga, and te ao Māori. The new entities must adhere to Te Mana o te Wai and “understand, support, and enable the exercise of mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, and kaitiakitanga”.

If iwi believe their water rights have been compromised they can seek refuge in the Waitangi Tribunal, as they did when some energy companies were up for sale in 2012. (I was uncompromising in my support of the Māori Council’s intervention at the time.)

This is not happening, presumably because any such claim would fail. What possible claim can there be on dams and polyethylene pipes constructed and paid for in the 182 years since 1840?

If we are being asked to enter into a new compact with Māori, where rights that do not exist under the Treaty are to be created, then this does need to be put before the public.

In its 2020 manifesto Labour wrote: “Labour will reform New Zealand’s drinking water and waste water system and upgrade water infrastructure to create jobs across the country.” There is no reference to co-governance.

Mahuta has no electoral, legal or Treaty mandate for her vision of co-governance, and even the claims of poor water quality are based on weak foundations.

If she wants to remove from ratepayers their legal and property rights, perhaps it is she, and not David Seymour, who needs to be putting this issue to the public.

After all, removing property rights without consent is what got us into the mess in the first place.

Damien Grant is an Auckland business owner, a member of the Taxpayers’ Union and a regular opinion contributor for Stuff, writing from a libertarian perspective. This article was first published HERE


Janine said...

This is all about co-governance and ultimately I suspect handing New Zealand over to 15% of the population. We need an opposition party pushing back strongly NOW. Apart from Three Waters there are many other important issues to be aired in public as well.The stewardship of our conservation lands and of course He Puapua and the separate Maori health system. So, all in all, this government are discussing, behind closed doors, many things Kiwis are not aware of. Do you still want access to your conservation land, beaches, rivers and lakes?

If the majority 85% are not happy with being second class citizens then they need to speak up NOW. Write to your MP, sign petitions and support legal action. This underhand governance is morally wrong as we are still a democracy as far as I know.

DeeM said...

You state that you're "not philosophically opposed to co-governance". So you would be happy with 17% of the population wielding 50% power and veto over the other 83% in all things? Unless you have another version of co-governance in mind....? Do you honestly think, Damian, even in your wildest dreams that a system like that would be fair and would end well?

You then say that you really have no idea whether Maori have the right to be treated as equal partners or not. Well, just who decides that thorny issue?
The most logical approach is to consult the original Treaty and look at the responses given by all the chiefs that signed it at the time.
Follow that path and the consensus is that there is no partnership or right of co-governance and indeed it is a legal impossibility. Problem solved?
No, that would be way too easy. Much better to get a Maori academic to redefine the meaning of Maori words without peer review and then take a judges passing remarks which form no part of an official judgement and construct your own case for co-governance.

You then hint that the Waitangi Tribunal would be the appropriate place to settle an issue like this. At least you admit that it's not perfect. Well, come on it's not even close to perfect because it is controlled and run by Maori and finds in favour of Maori without exception.
Hardly fair and balanced. Much like this government's consultation process on all He Puapua issues which ignore 87% of the population.

Glad to see you have issues over Three Waters but I'm more concerned about your views on co-governance.

Joseph said...

Damian you are described as a business owner. You would therefore be willing and happy for someone who owned 17% of the business to make decisions which could not be overturned by those shareholders who own the other 83%. However I see you live in some mythical land of Aoteoroa, so will not impact on the inhabitants of NEW ZEALAND.

gregd said...

You got it right Joseph!Born,educated,and live in Nz, but have problems upstairs in the brain dept, where to be fashionable we have to be also from Aotearoa.Is that a tax wrought?or just woke.