< June 2022 newsletter

Government to force Three Waters scheme despite overwhelming opposition

The controversial Three Waters legislation is one step closer - the Water Services Entities Bill was introduced to the House last week. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was the first of several pieces of legislation concerning the proposed water entities.

The proposed four entities will be governed and managed in accordance with “the principles of the Treaty, Te Mana o te Wai, and mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, kaitiakitanga, and te ao Māori”, according to the various Cabinet papers on the subject. (John Bishop, Three Waters is still a shameless asset grab)

In response to the overwhelming opposition from councils and the public, Mahuta appointed a working group to investigate possible solutions. She adopted most of their recommendations - the key changes relate to themes of ownership, governance and accountability, Te Mana o te Wai, strengthening the application of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and other matters relating to iwi/Māori rights and interests. The most controversial aspect of the reforms - co-governance - remains.

And not only does this remain, but a new layer of bureaucracy is to be added - regional advisory panels - again co-governed bodies which must include an equal number of territorial authority members and iwi reps. This is despite Nanaia Muhuta's promise in April that "Joint strategic oversight with local government and iwi Māori will only happen at the regional representative group level..."

After its first reading in Parliament, the bill will be subject to the select committee process. We have not been told which select committee at this stage - so far the Three Waters reforms have been in front of the Health Select Committee. Please take the opportunity to make a submission when the time comes. And request an oral submission on the legislation - in person and in your local centre.

You can read the bill HERE.

Worrying implication for property rights under Three Waters reform

The changes have done nothing to allay the legitimate fears about the unusual public ownership model, whereby Councils become "shareholders" - but with no rights other than the ability to decide whether or not to privatise - and that's only after seeking the approval of the Regional Representation Group (Water Services Entities Bill Schedule 4). The shares issued to Councils (more or less in proportion to their population - one share per 50,000 people) confer none of the normal benefits or obligations of ownership, and offer no more representation proportionate to their shareholding.

By this action, the government is taking away ratepayer owned property, and redefining ownership as we know it. Manawatu District Mayor Helen Worboys states her concern:

“If the Government can decide by decree to redefine ownership in this way it sets a worrying precedent over ownership on a far wider basis.”

Three councils – Timaru, Whāngarei and Waimakariri, have formed a partnership to take legal action against central government politicians. They are suing Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to challenge what they see as the Government's attempt to "expropriate council-owned property" without acknowledging it is a "taking". Their statement of claim expresses concern about the precedent that is being set if the Government removes the rights of ownership of water assets from local councils. This legal action is in the High Court this week, 7 & 8 June. Click HERE for a Stuff report on the first day in court.

A challenge to the partnership principle

The Water Users' Group is also underway with a legal challenge to the Government’s Three Waters reforms. An interlocutory hearing to argue for the Crown to release the legal advice the Minister relied upon to say co-governance is required in the Three Waters reforms. This is due to be heard in the High Court on Thursday 4 August. The Crown is arguing that they may disclose the advice, but only to the lawyers of the Water Users' Group. It appears the government is acting to ensure the public won't get to see it. The Water Users' Group thinks that's not good enough. To read the full story, explained by Stephen Franks of law firm Franks Ogilvie, see HERE and HERE.

This won't be the only day in court for the legal team representing the Water Users’ Group. There is still the substantive argument to deal with - that co-governance is not required as part of the Three Waters scheme. This case will have implications outside Three Waters because it challenges the notion that the Treaty of Waitangi formed a partnership between the Crown and Māori. No date has been set for this hearing. 

The essence of the case is explained in an interview with Stephen Franks HERE.

If you want to understand more about the background on this case (or read the Statement of Claim), check out the Litigation FAQs on the Water Users’ Group website HERE.


Water Services Entities Bill

Bell Gully: Reform set to progress, Working Group recommendations for Three Waters

Communities 4 Local Democracy: Worrying implication for property rights as Government forces through Three Waters reform

Russell McVeagh: Government takes the plunge and introduces first Three Waters legislation into Parliament

ACT: More co-governance, bureaucracy in new Three Waters bill


Newsroom: Dirty water and divisive politics: Three Waters reforms taken to court

Stuff: Three Waters is still a shameless asset grab

RNZ: Three Waters bill in Parliament as councils take legal action

Go back to the June 2022 newsletter


Our key concerns with the Water Services Entities Bill

The impact of the Water Services Entities Bill will be profound. The public and many local authorities appear to share many common concerns about provisions set out in the Bill. These include: Continue reading

Taxpayers’ Union takes to the streets to fight Three Waters

Christchurch was the first of 39 stops in a nationwide roadshow run by the Taxpayers’ Union to oppose the Government’s Three Waters reform. Executive director Jordan Williams said the tour was being held to hear and highlight the concerns of ratepayers and local councils opposed to the “undemocratic three waters asset grab.” Continue reading

Three Waters - Government removes vital information from public view

The Water Users’ Group legal challenge to the Government’s Three Waters Reform proposal has met an unexpected snag: “Something strange happened in December after we filed our High Court application for judicial review. Crown Law asked us to redact information that was previously in the public arena,” Stephen Franks writes in a recent communication to supporters of the Water Users’ Group. Continue reading

Three Waters update - Mayors still not convinced

It appears the Recommendations Report by the working group set up by the Government to address major national concerns around Three Waters has done nothing to quell the fears of many councils. Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said the working group's recommendations to Government around dealing with the three sticking points of representation, governance and accountability simply made her council more determined in its High Court Three Waters challenge. “Our concerns remain regarding democratic accountability, and ownership rights and responsibilities…….” Continue reading

Three Waters Legal Challenge Underway

You may not have heard of the Water Users’ Group. This is a group of concerned citizens who are taking legal action against the Labour Government’s plan "giving some Māori the effective control of more than a hundred billion dollars of ratepayer funded three waters assets". A link to the Group's website is here: www.waterusers.org.nz Continue reading

Major survey: Kiwis demand consultation on Three Waters

The most comprehensive polling to date on the Government’s Three Water reforms reveals the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders believe the Government should consult with them over the highly contentious policy proposal. Continue reading


All Water Services Entities will be required to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai. Three of its six principles will encompass all aspects of the water delivery system - specifically Mana whakahaere, Kaitiakitanga, and Manaakitanga. These principles are to be defined by tangata whenua. Continue reading


Incensed at the Government forcing through a plan for four mega entities to take over the country’s three waters infrastructure and service delivery - despite widespread opposition from 60 of the country’s 67 councils, and the promise from the government that their proposal was optional – three councils have banded together to file an application in the court against Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Secretary for Internal Affairs Paul James. 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

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. 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