Asked in an interview last Friday on The Platform whether he agreed that Three Waters had indeed become Five Waters, Winston Peters quipped: “It’s not Five Waters; it’s Six Waters now. The sixth one is they’re pissing down your back and telling you it’s raining.”
That graphic image was just part of his criticism of the last-minute manoeuvre to extend the reach of Te Mana o Te Wai statements to cover not only freshwater but coastal and geothermal water too — as well as pointing out the mainstream media’s willingness to ignore it.
“The mainstream media is not even covering it,” Peters said. “This has to be on purpose. It cannot be innocent. It cannot be ignorance…
“What [can be] going on apart from the serious corruption of the Fourth Estate in this country?”
In fact, Peters’ claim that the mainstream media was not covering the topic wasn’t entirely true.
Mike Hosking reported last Wednesday morning on Newstalk ZB that many listeners “were getting exercised” about the expansion of Three Waters (freshwater, waste water and stormwater) to Five Waters (by adding coastal and geothermal water).
It is a topic that was first covered extensively on The Platform, and Hosking raised the subject only to dismiss and deride it as alarmism.
According to Hosking, this expansion was just a proposal — “nothing more than an idea” — that the Finance and Expenditure select committee had put forward a few days earlier.
As soon as it became more than a proposal, and genuine grounds for alarm, he promised that he would let his listeners know.
When Megan Woods talked to Hosking soon after his spiel she agreed with his assessment, saying that it was just an idea that had yet to go to Cabinet for approval.
Woods: “The select committee report was the first time I’ve ever heard of the thought of including any more waters into the Three Waters bucket. So this hasn’t even been talked about by Cabinet…
“The select committee report has to be turned into a Cabinet paper. As the Minister of Energy and Resources, I’d probably have some views on geothermal!… It’s not something we’ve even considered.”
This is simply astonishing. A senior minister, ranked fourth in the Cabinet no less, was adamant that she and her Cabinet colleagues had not been consulted about a major extension to Three Waters legislation.
Yet, later on the very same day, the bill was presented to the House for its second reading — with that particular extension already having been added as an amendment.
Woods, and all her Labour colleagues, voted for it — just hours after Hosking’s assurance there was nothing to see here and Woods telling the world it had yet to go to Cabinet for consideration.
If you go to the Water Services Entities Bill on Parliament’s website, you will find section 4(4) now states:
Application of Te Mana o te Wai
“Te Mana o te Wai applies, for the purposes of this Act, not only to all freshwater, but also to all coastal water, and to all geothermal water (as those 3 terms are defined in section 2(1) of the Resource Management Act 1991).”
The amendment is tagged: “Inserted [by the] select committee majority” — which refers to Labour’s six members on the 11-strong Finance and Expenditure Committee.
Woods’ evident ignorance of this parliamentary manoeuvre raises the question of whether Nanaia Mahuta, the Minister of Local Government, has rammed this bill through Parliament so quickly that even her Cabinet colleagues hadn’t been consulted about the latest version.
What is also deeply disquieting is that no mainstream journalist — including Hosking himself — has been curious enough to find out how the proposal to add coastal and geothermal water arose, seemingly out of the blue.
Certainly, those closely watching the progress of the bill can’t remember a chorus of submitters asking for coastal and geothermal water to be added to the scope of Te Mana o Te Wai statements governing freshwater.
Experienced local-body councillor Tina Nixon told The Platform that she had a “holy shit moment” when she read the select committee’s proposal to expand the scope of the statements:
“How the hell did that happen?” she asked. “No one I saw in any submissions raised this issue. So where did that come from?”
Simon Watts, also speaking to The Platform, was asked whether the select committee report “accurately reflects the public submissions the committee received”.
Watts, who is National’s local government spokesperson and a member of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, replied: “In my view it doesn’t…. I don’t remember any one of the 88,000 [submitters] coming and presenting and saying we should be including coastal and geothermal waters…
“The short answer is they didn’t, and this is just another example of government overreach — ‘Let’s use the opportunity to ram through a broader agenda.’
“They’ve used the opportunity to throw a few more things in there.”
So who pushed for the amendment to be included in the select committee report?
I emailed Barbara Edmonds, the Labour MP who chairs the Finance and Expenditure Committee, to ask if she could tell me “how many submissions (roughly) asked for Te Mana o Te Wai statements to be extended to cover coastal and geothermal water” and to “direct me to any such submissions”.
I also asked: “If there were none, can you explain to me how the recommendation found its way into the committee’s report?”
Edmonds replied: “Best place to find the advice and sub[missions] underpinning this decision by the committee is in the Departmental Report on Submissions (September) as we agreed with most of the recommendations.”
The Departmental Report was compiled by officials in the Department of Internal Affairs, who assessed the submissions — and made the recommendations that the select committee mostly agreed with and reproduced in their own report.
What is striking is that the Departmental Report doesn’t cite any submitters asking for the extension.
Instead, it notes: “There has been an ongoing question about whether, in water services legislation, Te Mana o te Wai should apply to freshwater, geothermal water, and coastal water because:
- In te ao Māori, there is no distinction in the application of this concept to freshwater and coastal water;
- Water services discharge to freshwater bodies, brackish water such as inlets, wetlands, harbours or estuaries, and coastal water. Water services may also affect geothermal water;
- From a policy perspective, there is a strong argument that mana whenua should be able to make Te Mana o te Wai statements articulating, in their view, how the concept applies to all water bodies. A water services entity should in turn be required to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai in relation to them.
- The Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability established by the government recommended that, in the context of water services legislation, Te Mana o te Wai should apply to all water bodies.”
In short, the justification for the expansion was little more compelling than casting it as an “ongoing question”, and “a strong argument”… “from a policy perspective”.
The only body cited as advocating the extension was the Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability, which Nanaia Mahuta set up late last year to dampen discontent over Three Waters. It was disbanded long before submissions on the bill opened.
The group itself was co-governed — with nine elected members of local authorities and nine iwi/Maori representatives. Questioning co-governance in the Three Waters programme itself was ruled out as a topic for group discussion from the get-go.
It has been reported that some of the non-iwi members wanted anyone in the community with an interest in water, including farmers, to have the right, alongside iwi, to issue Te Mana o te Wai statements, but they were turned down flat — which indicates the tenor, and narrow scope, of the discussions.
It was also said that the committee was stacked with supporters of the government’s Three Waters reforms.
As Garry Moore, former longtime Labour mayor of Christchurch, wrote in March:
“Late last year the government appointed a working party, made up largely of people who agreed with the reforms, to reconsider the ‘governance’ aspects of the proposed Three Water reforms. It was really a rearrange-the-deckchairs-on-the-Titanic committee. The government made the Terms of Reference so tight nothing outside what the government wanted to hear was allowed.”
As we now know, the working group did not just rearrange the deck-chairs. It also added an explosive recommendation that was detonated in the select committee’s report published on Friday, November 11, and again at the second reading of the Water Services Entities Bill a few days later on Wednesday, November 16.
The fact a majority of the working group decided the right to issue binding Te Mana o Te Wai statements should be extended to include coastal and geothermal water brings to mind David Lange’s quip about panel-beaters being allowed to design an intersection.
The group reported back in early March. That is to say, three months before Mahuta introduced the Water Services Entities Bill to Parliament in early June.
If the group’s recommendation about expanding the reach of Te Mana o Te Wai statements was so compelling, why wasn’t it inserted into the initial version of the bill passed at the first reading in June?
A cynic might think — and who wouldn’t be cynical after this government’s history of underhand manoeuvres? — that this was part of the plan all along.
It is obvious to anyone that adding coastal and geothermal water would be an explosive issue — as any debate about iwi control over the foreshore and seabed in particular has been every time it has been raised.
Rather than letting such a proposal whip up a storm of objections and become the subject of tens of thousands of submissions to the select committee, why not slip it into the bill as an amendment shortly before the second reading — and long after the deadline for submissions had passed?
With the third — and final — reading of the bill possibly taking place next week, iwi control over water is well on its way to becoming New Zealand law.
It appears to be yet another dismal chapter in the shameful history of this bill — that includes the government’s misleading $3.5 million ad campaign featuring grumpy fish and slimy water, and its sham consultation with councils last year over opting out of Three Waters when the decision had already been made months earlier by Cabinet to mandate joining.
Last Wednesday’s second reading of the Water Services Entities Bill, however, takes the government’s evident cynicism and contempt for voters to a new level.
It is hard not to agree with National’s Maureen Pugh, who told Parliament at the second reading, “New Zealand has been duped.”
She said: “I have to say that this is the most despicable, the most dishonest, and the most dishonourable piece of legislation I have had the misfortune to speak to in this House. This is a deplorable way of stealing assets off communities — assets that have been bought and paid for over generations…
“This is despicable, and I want to say that the people of this country deserve better.”
Graham Adams is an Auckland-based freelance editor, journalist and columnist. This article was originally published by ThePlatform.kiwi and is published here with kind permission.