< August 2021 newsletter

Government plans to seize ratepayers’ assets - without compensation

Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta has announced further details of the Government's regulatory and structural reform of water service delivery in New Zealand. The plan is for an unprecedented transfer of billions of dollars of ratepayer-funded assets from local bodies to four entities.

 As Muriel Newman explains in ‘Troubled Waters Ahead’:

“Local government would be stripped of major assets and a core role, with communities no longer able to have any say in the delivery and pricing of water services.

This is being done without any offer of compensation and without any consultation with the communities that own the assets - even though the Local Government Act requires councils to consult their communities when considering the disposal of strategic assets”.

Bruce Smith, the Mayor of Westland District Council, explains in his excellent commentary  The Three Waters Journey

“While councils would still own the assets through some form of joint ownership of the water authorities, there would be no shareholding. The new entities would then borrow up to $160 billion (more than the Government’s total net debt) to fund their activities using council assets as security”.

According to a Department of Internal Affairs 3 Waters Reform Programme Webinar presentation to IPWEA NZ on 24 March 21, these four entities will not be council-controlled organisations (CCOs), Crown entities, nor community trusts. Instead, they will be fit-for-purpose, bespoke for Aotearoa entities”. (Is this another example of the rollout of He Puapua? The report explains: “He Puapua means ‘a break’, which usually refers to a break in the waves. Here it refers to the breaking of the usual political and societal norms and approaches”). The link to the webinar is HERE.

Mayor Smith again:

“The governance structure has been proposed as 50% councils who have put in 100% of the assets and 50% Iwi, an unusual situation to say the least".

"The ratepayers of each district on the coast will struggle with the concept of having their assets taken and being billed with large increases from the water regulator. Bills they will have no control over, where at present elections bring about accountability”.

See further comment from Mayor Smith in his also excellent follow-up video of 24 July by clicking HERE

Proposals fly in the face of democracy

Under the Government’s proposal, the board members of each of the four entities will be appointed by a three-tier process:

    • Local authorities and mana whenua will each appoint up to six members to a Regional Representative Group (up to 12 members total).
    • the Regional Representative Group will appoint and monitor an Independent Selection Panel; and
    • that Panel will appoint board members to govern the local three waters entity and monitor the board's performance.

The Government claims that this model is designed to ensure partnership with mana whenua is maintained at a co-governance and oversight level. There appears to be no recognition from the government that the co-governance of these water authorities would give Maori the right of veto over all decisions relating to the allocation and use of freshwater. Such constitutional changes require a more thorough and transparent reform process than the Government is allowing. As Victoria University’s Dr Bryce Edwards observes,

“Coming on top of the He Puapua report, with its vision of 50-50 co-governance with Maori, this will stoke suspicions that the Three Waters project is as much about power-sharing with iwi as it is about reducing costs and ensuring consistency of water quality and administrative efficiency.”

There is no question that the proposed make-up of the water entities is grossly undemocratic. Take the South Island for example - it is proposed that six elected members of the agency would represent 21 South Island councils with their population of around 1 million, while the other six would represent those who affiliate with Ngai Tahu, which has 68,000 registered members, only half of whom live in their tribal area.

To sweeten the deal, the government is offering an inducement of $2.5bn to buy councils' compliance - $2 billion for Councils to invest in the future of local government, urban development, and the wellbeing of communities “consistent with the priorities of both central and local government”, and $500m to provide support for local authorities through the transition process. This funding is to come from both the Crown and the new water services entities, with central government providing $1 billion, and the Water Services entities themselves providing the remaining $1.5 billion. (Of course, this will be funded by adding this cost to our water bills). This fund goes nowhere near compensating the local authorities for the loss of their assets. For instance, Westland District council has been promised $11m should they agree to sign up, whereas the value of their drinking water, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure stands at $120m.

It was thought that the councils had up until the end of 2021 to decide whether to opt-out of the Three Waters scheme, but the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta told the recent Local Government conference they now only have until 30 September to advise the government whether they are in or out of the scheme. This gives nowhere enough time for councils to gain a mandate from their communities before making the decision. Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen says that the actual reform process is being run at an alarming rate. “We’re being asked to make decisions on one of the biggest changes to local government in decades quickly and with incomplete and unclear information at hand”.

The Local Government Act requires councils to consult their communities when considering the disposal of strategic assets, a process which three months takes at the bare minimum - that is after receiving all the necessary information, which councils are pointing out they do not have.

Mayor Smith is just one of the local body leaders who are unconvinced about the Government’s proposed water delivery services, saying that the case for change has not been proven. He has called for public referendums on this issue to be held in all localities throughout the country.

Further comment and media coverage

RNZ: Three mayors on three waters: running hot or cold?

Otago Daily Times: $164m for councils transferring 3 waters control to new national entity 

Stuff: Three Waters reform pushed 'at alarming rate', Timaru District mayor says

South Waikato District Council:  Mayoral Statement on Three Waters Reform

What you can do

Talk to your local council - contact your mayor and councillors to let them know what you think. Chances are many of them are not happy with the proposals either, and just need to know that they have the backing of their community.

You can find councillor contact details HERE.

Below is our suggested wording, please feel free to edit to suit.


I am writing to you about the Government’s Three Waters Reform Programme. According to the Department of Internal Affairs report, ‘Central/Local Government Three Waters Reform Programme’, councils and their communities are to make decisions on remaining in or opting out of the reform programme. I am not convinced the proposed reform of the water service delivery programme is in our best interests. I wish to voice my concerns to you about aspects of this programme, such as the following:

  • Under these reforms, water services would no longer be under the control of the council but would instead be operated by just four multi-regional entities. I oppose what amounts to this nationalisation of our three waters assets, assets that belong to the ratepayers of this area.
  • I am concerned that the proposed governance structure of these entities lacks accountability, and therefore responsiveness to the citizens, who would have virtually no influence over the water supply. I believe a strong local voice is needed to make the best decisions for our community.
  • As there will only be six seats allocated to local authorities on the water service delivery Regional Representative Group, many councils will miss out on representation.
  • I have grave concerns about the high level of authority afforded iwi/ Māori over the establishment of water service entities and delivery of water services. Rather than sharing governance with vested interests who are unaccountable to the wider community, I want the decision-makers who exercise control over the allocation and delivery of water services to remain accountable to our democratically elected councils.
  • While there is specific mention of mechanisms to recognise the interests of iwi/Māori, with “more direct mechanisms for iwi/Māori to influence outcomes with clearer accountabilities,” there is no specific mechanism to incorporate and maintain the voice of communities in the new system design.
  • There are too many unanswered questions around the costs associated with this reform programme. The Government has not provided enough information to substantiate its claims. Instead, it is making big assumptions about the efficiency gains.
  • The new body would be more susceptible to privatisation, as has occurred in the United Kingdom.
  • Ratepayers are the owners and funders of these assets, and as such we must have the ability to have our say. However, the timeline precludes genuine consultation with communities before the decision is made.

I do not accept that the Minister of Local Government has presented a convincing case for the need for the proposed water delivery service reforms. As such, I do not believe the water delivery service proposals should be approved, but rather they should be abandoned. Therefore, I am urging you to vote to opt-out of the reform programme proposed by the Government.

Thank you.

Go back to the August 2021 newsletter


Future for Local Government Review signals Treaty-based local governance

Local government is facing a wave of radical changes - such as the overhaul of the three waters sector and the resource management system - that will significantly affect their traditional roles and functions.  Continue reading

Do your Council’s representation arrangements fail the equal rights test?

Councils owe a duty of fair representation to all the citizens they represent, yet this fundamental principle of democratic governance is being ignored by councils as they build “Treaty partnerships” with their Māori citizens. This is very apparent at Rotorua Lakes Council, where undemocratic arrangements have been introduced to “strengthen the voice of Māori in our decision making”.  Continue reading

Local Government update

Government plans a local government system that actively embodies the Treaty partnership. On 23 April 2021 the Minister of Local Government established a review into the future for Local Government:  “The overall purpose of the Review is, as a result of the cumulative changes being progressed as part of the Government’s reform agenda, to identify how our system of local democracy and governance needs to evolve over the next 30 years, to improve the wellbeing of New Zealand communities and the environment, and actively embody the Treaty partnership”. Continue reading

Tauranga citizens to be further disenfranchised

The anti-democratic madness continues apace in Tauranga. Following the Government-appointed Commissioners recent decision to establish a Māori ward, they have also agreed to a new committee – the Strategy, Finance and Risk Committee - which embodies the 'Treaty partnership', but goes further than that, effectively shutting out the wider community. Continue reading

Māori wards update - May

Even though time and time again referenda have shown that most New Zealanders are opposed to race-based voting systems, 24 local authorities have recently either made the decision to proceed with Māori wards or have indicated an intention to do so. In addition to those mentioned in the April edition of the Democracy Action newsletter, the following have voted to proceed down this path: Continue reading

The cost to ratepayers of implementing the partnership principle

Photo: Penny Smart, Chair of Northland Regional Council The partnership-with-iwi provisions are creating significant cost pressures for councils. This includes large and on-going costs associated with implementing and maintaining the variety of ways Iwi/Māori are involved in local government and contribute to council decision making. Continue reading

Further Councils Considering Establishing Māori Wards

Councils: Waipa, Hawke’s Bay, Horizons, Horowhenua, Hamilton As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, the new Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act 2021 extended the deadline for councils to consider Māori wards for the 2022 triennial local government elections to 21 May 2021. This has brought forward a flurry of proposals and votes.  Continue reading

Government legislates away a democratic right

“Labour will ensure that major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset.”  So pledged the Labour Party during the 2020 election campaign. Just four months later they have broken this promise in spectacular fashion, passing under urgency the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act - thereby abolishing the right of local communities to petition for a referendum on Maori wards or constituencies. Continue reading

Step by step, the undermining of democracy continues……….

Maori wards are not the only avenue for separate local government representation for Māori. Continue reading

No respect for democracy - Government to muzzle citizens

In a shock announcement, the Government reveals it intends to use the extraordinary powers reserved for use when the nation is under threat to get rid of legislation that enables referenda on Māori wards. Continue reading

We want a vote on Māori wards!

The Local Electoral Act’s binding poll system is a form of direct democracy that enables local electors to choose for themselves by simple majority vote whether or not they support race-based council representation. However, to trigger a poll 5 percent of electors must support a petition to hold the referendum. Campaigns to do so have already started in several regions. Please offer your support and encouragement to those who are standing up for the right to have a say on whether we support designated race-based seats at the council table. Continue reading

Mayors seek law change to thwart citizens’ right to have a say on Māori wards

Every six years local bodies are obliged to review the ward system. We have seen a flurry of such activity over the past few months, with both New Plymouth and Tauranga acting to establish Māori wards, and others considering whether to follow suit.  Continue reading

More councils adopt racially-selected appointees

Despite constituents strongly opposing separate race-based representation, as shown in referenda held in 2018, the number of councils across New Zealand which have appointed unelected members with voting rights to council committees has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. The following are examples (by no means the total number) of councils who have recently taken the obligation to consult with Māori to an undemocratic level: Continue reading

Yahoo! A double win for democracy

We end the year with the welcome news that the bill making it harder to remove the Māori seats from Parliament has been voted down at the second reading, with New Zealand First opposing the change. Only Labour and the Green Party supported the legislation. The bill cleared its first hurdle in Parliament last year with the unlikely support of New Zealand First, which opposes the Māori seats. The party wanted to use the bill as a vehicle to hold a two-part referendum on the seats, asking whether they should be entrenched or done away with altogether. But no referendum was added after the select committee stage. Continue reading

Local Body Elections 2019

The Democracy Action working group is preparing a set of questions to ask candidates. Please take the opportunity to call radio shows with guest candidates, and attend public meetings, to ask a question or two. Continue reading

The undermining of our democracy continues apace

Please see below some examples from around the country: Earlier this year the Minister of Conservation signed a partnership agreement between the ministry, DOC and Auckland iwi Ngai Tai ki Tamaki, to share in the management of natural resources, and cultural and historical heritage. Ngai Tai ki Tamaki’s role is that of guardians and stewards. They are seeking to establish an ‘iwi conservancy’ over land and taonga species. They are based at Umupuia, just south of Maraetai, on the shores of the Hauraki Gulf. Yet they claim an area of interest, and therefore influence, that stretches from north of Auckland, down to Tauranga, including the whole of the Coromandel Peninsula; much of the Manukau Harbour in the west, and out past Gt. Barrier Island in the east, as shown below. Continue reading

‘Partnership’ - a way of heading off costly litigation?

Last month we reported on the Horizons Regional Council vote to create a committee of councillors and iwi leaders to come up with strategies for managing Manawatū waterways. Continue reading

Auckland Plan 2050 Adopted – With The Anti-Democratic Provisions

The Auckland Plan 2050, the long-term strategy for Auckland’s growth and development, and which provides a framework to inform decisions, has been adopted by Auckland Council. Continue reading

Implementation of Treaty settlements creating significant cost pressures

The Waikato Regional Council’s draft submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Local Government Funding and Financing reveals that the implementation of Treaty of Waitangi settlements creates significant cost pressures for Council. The submission states that “the Council wishes to work with its iwi partners in partnership but notes that the costs to do so is significant to its ratepayers”. Continue reading

Hastings District Council joins the Hall of Shame

A big thank you to those who contacted Hasting District councillors to encourage them to vote against the proposal to enable four members of the Maori Joint Committee to sit and vote on the council’s four standing committees. Unfortunately, enough councillors (10-4) felt able to turn their back on democracy by appointing unelected Maori to all committees.  Continue reading

Good News - designated seats for Ngāi Tahu voted down

New Zealand First has scuppered Labour's bid to give Ngāi Tahu permanent seats on the Canterbury Regional Council, saying its special treatment for Māori. Shane Jones acknowledged the party's long-held position against separate seats for Māori on local body councils. Continue reading

Auckland Council’s ‘Our Water Future’ - Remember to have your say

Auckland Council recently released a discussion document on developing ‘a water strategy to ensure a secure, sustainable, and healthy future for water in Auckland’. We covered this issue in the March update, but to briefly recap, as to the advancement of a co-governance agenda, concerns centre on the following statements: Continue reading

The Waikato District Council Blueprint Project

It appears every act of special entitlement is simply used as a stepping stone to further power. We see an example of this in the Waikato District Council’s Blueprint project, with its pitch to build on the Joint Management Agreements and other agreements with iwi, and the proposal to appoint a ‘Maori Partnership Manager’ “to sit with the CE group, which will, appropriately, facilitate a “chief to chief” relationship” – with the assistance of an operational support person. There are only a few days left to have provide feedback. Go online to have your say by 5pm Monday 8 April. Continue reading

Time to Vote - Local Body Elections 2019

Voting in local body elections is under way, with the poll closing noon 12 October. With the push for co-governance and partnership arrangements gathering speed, there’s a lot riding on our choices this election. The next three years will make a huge difference to our future. Continue reading

Vote for me! Local body elections 2019

The upcoming election gives us the opportunity to voice our opinions, to hold elected representatives to account, and to vote for what we believe in. So please take all opportunities to question those standing for office. You could also identify those candidates you can support and offer your help as they campaign. We at Democracy Action believe our representatives should be voted on merit, not race. As Gisborne Herald columnist, farmer, community worker, and heritage consultant Mr Clive Bibby writes in his article 'Diversity best achieved naturally'  “The majority of people do not judge by colour, religion, age, sex or disability. They judge you by what you believe in, what you hope to do, what you bring to the table, whether you will work hard for them and represent their voices at the council or health board table.”     Continue reading

Outrage at power grab - “a dark day for democracy”

"A deceitful, lying pack of bastards," exclaimed Masterton councillor Tina Nixon on hearing that the government will force councils to hand control of their water assets to four mega water entities, despite the previous promise to Councils that they could choose to opt in or out of the proposed reform programme.  Continue reading


There is strong level of opposition across the country to the Government’s proposed Three Waters service delivery programme. Comments from councillors show very serious concerns. In some quarters there appears to be a suspicion that the Government is not being completely open about everything it is seeking to achieve.   Continue reading

Three Waters reform to give iwi/Māori dominating influence

As the Government releases more information about its Three Waters reforms, it is becoming obvious that the proposed system is to be dominated by the rights and interests of iwi/Māori. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) Three Waters paper ‘Opportunities for Iwi/Māori in the Three Waters Reform’ sets out how this will be achieved.  Continue reading

Three Waters Reform – further constitutional change by stealth

In another step in what the Government terms ‘partnership-based reform’ Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta last week released further information on plans to move the ownership and management of water infrastructure from local councils into the hands of four multi-regional water service entities across New Zealand. This information includes the proposed boundaries of the four water providers, and further details on the proposed water services entities - including governance arrangements, how they would be regulated, and the role of iwi. Nanaia Mahuta stated: “The Government will continue to work with the sector, iwi and industry on some of the details to give these transformational reforms the best chance of success. We will be making further announcements in the coming weeks, including a three waters reform support package for councils and their communities’’. Continue reading

Next Steps for Three Waters Reform

This is a complex set of reforms the Government intends to implement in stages over the next three years.  The first stage was the Water Services Regulator Act - which created the water services regulator ‘Taumata Arowai’. This body will oversee and enforce a new drinking water regulatory framework, and have oversight of the management of our wastewater and stormwater networks. This is designed to ensure that minimum water standards are met no matter who the supplier. This new Crown entity is currently being established, and will become responsible for drinking water regulation when the second stage, the Water Services Bill, is passed, which is expected to be mid-2021. Continue reading

Update on the Three Waters Reform Programme

Early last year many of us made submissions on the Water Services Regulator Bill. Following the public consultation process the Government passed the Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Act in July 2020. The reform programme is now being progressed through a voluntary, partnership-based approach with the local government sector, alongside iwi/Māori as the Crown’s Treaty Partner.  Continue reading

Influential role for Maori at new Water Services Regulator

Taumata Arowai—the Water Services Regulator Bill, open for public submissions until 4th March, seeks to create a new water regulator - to be called Taumata Arowai. The Bill includes provision for a Maori advisory group to work alongside this new Crown entity. The Maori Advisory Group is another manifestation of the government’s commitment to support agencies to form true partnerships with Māori "by actively facilitating new prototype partnerships between the Crown and Māori", as outlined in a cabinet paper released in July 2019, 'Building Closer Partnerships with Māori'. Continue reading