From the outset, Three Waters has been a damning indictment of the Labour Government. Built on lies and misrepresentations, the whole reform programme is shaping up to be a major election issue in 2023.
But first things first.
The Water Services Entities Bill has now had its first reading in Parliament and is open for submissions. The Bill creates the four regional mega-entities that will take over freshwater, stormwater, and wastewater services appropriated from local councils.
We are encouraging everyone opposed to Three Waters to send in a submission by the 22nd of July – full details can be found HERE. A big turnout against the Bill would test the resolve of Labour MPs and send an important signal that they ignore the wishes of the community at their peril.
There is no doubt that Three Waters is contributing to a decline in support for Jacinda Ardern’s Government. This was evident in the latest Roy Morgan poll, which shows Labour has fallen from 50 percent at the election to 31.5, while National has risen from 25.5 to 40 percent.
Those twenty-five Labour MPs who are likely to lose their seats will undoubtedly be questioning the fifteen members of the Maori Caucus, who clearly hold the balance of power within Labour but to date show no sign of backing down from Three Waters and their He Puapua agenda for tribal control.
So, let’s run through Labour’s litany of lies about Three Waters.
It started with what Labour didn’t tell us during the 2020 election campaign. While their manifesto stated: “Labour will reform New Zealand’s drinking water and waste water system and upgrade water infrastructure to create jobs across the country”, they did not share their commitment to He Puapua, nor its goal of making “co-governance and co-management of freshwater bodies compulsory”.
Labour did not tell the public they intended to hand control of water to Maori. Nor did they explain that to achieve that goal local government would be stripped of their key water assets and infrastructure without fair compensation.
And nor did they reveal that Councils would be prevented from consulting with their communities over these changes - even though the Local Government Act requires consultation if a transfer of water services is being considered.
In fact, clause 14 of Schedule 1 of the new Bill specifically withdraws the requirement for local councils to consult with their communities over the proposed confiscation of their water services.
A series of Cabinet papers reveal the progress of policy changes behind the scenes.
During 2018, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta progressed from consulting iwi along with other interest groups over Three Waters, to prioritising them: “It will be necessary to engage at the national, catchment, and local levels given the range of iwi interests, and also the different and often localised way that three waters challenges are experienced by Maori communities.”
And by 2020, the Minister was involving iwi leaders - representing multi-million dollar business corporations - in policy development: “When engaging with iwi, we will seek to use the National Iwi Chairs Forum.”
After Labour had won the election with an outright majority, the Treaty “partnership” fabrication emerged: “On 14 December 2020, Cabinet agreed that a high-level principle of partnership with iwi will be followed throughout the reform programme … reflected in the governance and operational arrangements of the new water service delivery entities and broader regulatory system.”
The Department of Internal Affairs outlined developments on their website: “It is proposed that Iwi/Maori will have a greater role in the new Three Waters system, including pathways for enhanced participation by whanau and hapu… detailed information in Cabinet paper three.”
In that pivotal June 2021 Cabinet paper, the Minister claimed the authority for taking a 50:50 ‘partnership’ approach to Three Waters came from Crown Law: “Crown Law advice is that there are two significant Treaty principles applicable to the Three Waters Review: partnership and active protection. The principle of partnership requires the Treaty partners to act reasonably and with good faith to each other. The duty of good faith includes a requirement that the Crown take reasonable steps to make informed decisions on matters that affect Maori interests”.
A key part of the Three Waters reforms was the establishment of the new water regulator Taumata Arowai. Until then, water supplies were regulated by the Ministry of Health. Their annual water quality audits showed excellent results, as did the regular surveillance reports from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).
Those factual reports are in sharp contrast to the impression created by Minister Mahuta when justifying the reforms: “Four years ago more than 5000 people got sick and up to four died in the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak and we don’t want to see that happen again… At least 34,000 New Zealanders become ill from drinking tap water every year and many communities around the country cannot drink their water without first boiling it.”
Fact-checking those three main claims reveals firstly, the government inquiry into the Havelock North incident - caused by farm runoff seeping into town water during a storm - was not so definitive: “It is possible the outbreak contributed to three deaths.”
Secondly, the Minister’s often quoted 34,000 figure comes from a fourteen-year-old report by ESR scientist Andrew Ball estimating the incidence of waterborne gastro-intestinal disease in New Zealand that found no real problem with water quality: “the size of most outbreaks is small, averaging nine cases per outbreak in 2000-2004, and is smaller than any other countries for which data are available.”
With insufficient local data to calculate the incidence of endemic disease in New Zealand, Dr Ball used uncertain UK statistics to estimate between 18,000 and 34,000 infections a year – but qualified his conclusions by stating: “The reliability of this method is questioned by the author.”
And thirdly, with regards to “boil notices”, Herald journalist John Roughan explains: “When Nanaia Mahuta says too many New Zealanders are living under boil-water notices, some will know that is not the whole truth. The policy on notices changed a couple of years ago. They are no longer withdrawn once an occasional contaminant is flushed through the system, they are being left in place as a ‘precaution’. The timing of that policy change, about the time the Three Waters reform was starting, makes it hard to resist the suspicion the notices are being left in place to make a case for change.”
So, while Minister Mahuta’s claims of dangerous drinking water lack factual integrity, the responsibility for water quality has, nevertheless, now been passed to Taumata Arowai - the new Water Services Regulator.
Managing the regulator is a Board of seven, two of whom are members of a five-member Maori Advisory Board. According to the regulator’s controlling legislation, whatever the Maori Advisory Board decides, the regulator must enact – or explain why it has not done so.
That means the chair of the Maori Advisory Board holds one of the most powerful positions in Three Waters. Tipa Mahuta - the Minister’s sister - has been appointed chair.
There have been accusations of ‘nepotism’ over the appointment of the Minister’s sister to such a key role within the Minister’s portfolio - especially as the Cabinet manual is clear that Ministers must not be involved in anything that can be considered a conflict of interest, or that conveys the perception of a conflict.
And while Minister Mahuta stepped aside from the actual appointment of her sister, it defies credibility to claim the appointment was not influenced by her. It appears her Maori caucus colleague, the Minister of Maori Crown Relations, Kelvin Davis, rubber stamped the appointment with the Prime Minister’s consent.
There is no escaping the fact that the appearance of a conflict of interest throws doubt on the integrity of the whole reform process, raising concerns over whether others are being embedded into key positions of authority.
And why aren’t the mainstream media investigating this in the way they would surely do if a National Minister’s close relative had been appointed to a key position in their portfolio?
Is this yet another example of New Zealand’s Fourth Estate turning a blind eye to the goings on within the Labour government?
Whichever way you look at the Three Waters reforms, given there are many different ways central government could help councils upgrade their water infrastructure – including emulating the 50:50 shared funding arrangement they use for local roading – the inevitable conclusion is that the primary motivation for the reforms is Minister Mahuta’s desire to advance the interests of Maori in water.
And its not just at the regulatory level either.
Clause 27 of the Bill, requires the four Regional Representative Groups to select 12 to 14 members in an equal number of “territorial authority representatives and mana whenua representatives”.
So, while Region One’s four councils will each have representation on their Group, that will not apply in Regions Two, Three or Four, which have 22, 21 and 22 councils respectively - with two councils split between regions because the Minister has prioritised iwi boundaries over those of councils!
While the Regional Representative Groups can appoint Regional Advisory Panels, which must also be co-governed, that does not apply to the six to ten members of the Water Entity Boards. They must instead demonstrate expertise in the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the “perspectives of mana whenua, matauranga, tikanga, and te ao Maori”.
For ratepayers, the impact of Three Waters will be profound. From funding, owning, and controlling local water infrastructure and service delivery through their elected councils, not only are their assets being confiscated without fair compensation, but their power of control is being transferred to local iwi.
These provisions can be found in clause 140, which gives any iwi members the authority to issue a local “Te Mana o te Wai” directive to the Water Entity Board that cannot be ignored.
In anticipation of this transfer of power, Minister Mahuta has launched a $3.2 million He Pukenga Wai Fund, to provide $18,000 of taxpayers’ money every year to each of the 180 registered iwi throughout the country. The purpose of the funding is “to support iwi Maori to participate in the Three Waters Programme and undertake steps that will provide joint oversight of the new water services entities once they have been established.”
This is just a start - “further support will be announced in the near future.”
This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, financial analyst and former councillor Frank Newman, has also been investigating Three Waters, and he exposes the lie that water users will be much better off under the new scheme:
“To explain how the government has made the figures look compelling one needs to understand what a Ponzi scheme is. In essence, it is a deception that generates returns for earlier investors with money taken from later investors.
“This is essentially what the government model does. It is shifting the water rating burden from current ratepayers to future ratepayers by accumulating debt that it assumes does not need to be repaid.
“This tilts the figures in favour of the government's amalgamation proposal because the entities can borrow substantially more without requiring water users to fund that spending!” You can read Frank’s excellent analysis HERE.
All in all, a disinformation campaign promoting the need for reform of New Zealand’s water services has resulted in the Three Waters Bill that is now in front of Parliament. The Bill passes control of the governing entities to iwi. Water quality is controlled by a new regulator that gives the Minister’s sister the final say. And tribal members are being given control of water services at a local level.
This is not democracy, as we know it. This is Jacinda Ardern delivering on yet another He Puapua goal – in this case, tribal control of water.
Since Three Waters will not be fully operational until 2024, it will become a defining election issue: vote Labour for iwi control of water infrastructure and services - or vote for the opposition to ensure local authorities and their communities retain control of this crucial public resource.
Don’t forget, submission details can be found HERE – and, to assist, we have posted a submission on our Breaking Views Bog HERE, but please remember that while submissions don’t need to be long, they should be in your own words. Good luck!
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THIS WEEK’S POLL ASKS:
*Do you think Three Waters will harm Labour’s chances of re-election in 2023?
Dr Muriel Newman established the New Zealand Centre for Political Research as a public policy think tank in 2005 after nine years as a Member of Parliament. The NZCPR website is HERE. We also run this Breaking Views Blog and our NZCPR Facebook Group HERE.
Thank goodness for Muriel Newman and the NZCPR newsletter, without this entity we would hear very little of this and other issues the Labour government would prefer to keep hidden.
I will personally be writing a submission, however it will not be anywhere near as detailed or as long as your one.
We need to fight this proposed law change with everything we have got, as although National and Act have both said they will repeal it if we have a government change in 2023, I personally do not trust them to do so, based on previous actions in the past.
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