Thursday, June 16, 2022

Craig Little: There's a better way forward than Three Waters

In her election victory speech back in October 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated, “We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander".

She went on to say everyone was living in an "increasingly polarised world", but she hoped this election had shown New Zealand that this was not who we were and that as a nation we can listen and debate.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Three Waters Reform, the Government hasn’t listened or debated, because the outcome was predetermined from the beginning, and this has perpetuated a divided and polarised nation.

The Government’s approach to the Three Waters Reform is not the democracy New Zealand prides itself on.

Lack of funding to councils from central government is what has caused the issues New Zealand has around its three waters (wastewater, stormwater and drinking water).

The Government’s new model is not based on additional funding. It is simply creating new entities to borrow money to deliver what councils are already delivering.

It was in the late 1980s that the water infrastructure issues began, after the government of the day removed the water related subsidies of the time.

When these subsidies were stopped, councils had to reprioritise their spending, with three waters costs competing against other priorities.

We then had successive governments making rules and legislation that councils had to deliver on, but with no additional funding being given to achieve these ever-changing standards.

If central government makes change and expects local government to deliver the change, there needs to be a mechanism for attracting funding attached to that. We cannot just keep putting up rates to absorb increasing costs that are created by central government – yet that is the legacy of our issues.

We only have to look at the significant improvements that councils have been able to make to their three waters infrastructure following the first tranche of funding from the Department of Internal Affairs in 2021.

This is further evidence that what is needed is funding – not a change of delivery.

If three waters funding was run in a similar way to roading, there could be assisted rates based on the same criteria that NZTA Waka Kotahi uses, part of a co-investment system which recognises there are national and local benefits from investment.

It is unfortunate that instead of engaging with local authorities, which have owned and run water assets in New Zealand for more than 100 years, the Government has taken a sledgehammer approach to the problem, based on big promises from foreign models and highly paid consultants.

Despite the Government portraying that councils, communities, iwi and Māori have been consulted with, there has in fact been little to no engagement around a proposal that had its outcome pre-determined from the start.

There was an initial sales pitch that promised any changes would be voluntary and stressed the importance of bringing along everyone. When it became obvious that no one was buying what they were selling they simply took that option away.

I do commend the Government on establishing the new national water services regulator, Taumata Arowai, which will ensure consistent national water standards throughout the country.

However, it would have been more practical to leave this national regulator to settle into its position while councils start working towards the required standards.

Do not forget these three waters assets are owned by our communities who have paid for them through their rates. The Government shows no acknowledgement of the decades of investment by local communities and work and delivery by local councils, all while trying to manage on a very limited funding stream.

Any laws around asset ownership made by the Government today, can be broken or changed by governments in the future.

Nothing is set in stone, there is no security or guarantee that privatisation won’t occur in the future. The best security is local people owning local assets.

Polls taken across New Zealand have consistently shown the vast majority of New Zealanders do not support the Three Waters proposal in its current form.

Wairoa District Council was one of the founding members of Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori, which was established in response to the absolute disappointment in the way the Government has bulldozed its way through the three waters process.

Communities 4 Local Democracy now has over 30 councils on board, as well as many other councils which have given support in principle.

As a group we are not against change, but it needs to be sensible and needs to serve our communities well which this proposal will not.

There are no guarantees whatsoever that delivery will be better under this proposal. There are incorrect figures and flawed analysis, and you only have to look at the Government response to housing, health and mental health to know it does not always get it right.

Now is the time for the Government to stand by its communities and work in partnership with us, by giving local councils the ability to access adequate funding so we can meet the three waters needs of today and the future.

Craig Little is the current mayor of Wairoa, a farmer, and past TV news announcer and journalist. This article was first published HERE


RayS said...

Craig, when I read this and similar articles, I get the message that councils and yourself are not totally opposed to three waters.
If it were to be "tweaked" a bit, it would all be OK.
If I were government I would be looking very closely at similar responses and feeling more and more satisfied that I will get what I want in the end.

Robert Arthur said...

Seems to me Three Waters is a device to ensure the big cities pay for the water for the like of Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Wairoa so the largely maori populations may enjoy the infrastructur benefits of industrialised civilisation whilst remaining cosily detached from the risk of the tedium of city life and work every day. Whilst avoiding significant rates.
The Havelock North incidence was a case of basic woeful engineering oversight negligence, for which many major city dwellers are to be punished.