< November 2021 newsletter

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. 

Further south, Christchurch city councillor James Gough said he was in “utter disbelief” at the decision, which he described as “abhorrent on every level”. He said it was “a dark day for democracy in New Zealand”.

Even Stuff has joined the chorus condemning this dictatorial action by the government, commenting in a recent editorial: 

"Opposition parties, and more than a few local bodies, will portray this as a jackbooted disregard for democratic accountability and an unconscionable seizure of assets that had been built up by generations of ratepayers," it said.

It has become patently obvious the government had no intention of listening to councils - that the six week “consultation” process with local authorities was a complete sham. The Cabinet paper Three Waters Reforms: Further Decisions, seeking agreement to proceed with a legislated 'all in' approach to reform, was signed off on the 18th of October. On Friday the 22nd of October, four days later, the summary of the submissions from local government were completed and sent to the minister’s office. Therefore, the Cabinet papers were written well before the summary of submissions from local government had been completed.

Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon, expressing his disappointment with the forced decision:

 “We approached this review in good faith and hoped the Government would show similar good faith and respect the decision of the majority of councils to opt-out of the reform”.

What is happening next

Over the next three years, three bills will be introduced to Parliament establishing how the entities will operate. The first one, the Water Services Entities Bill, will be introduced in December, and be passed next year. Work is underway to establish a working group of local government, iwi, and water industry experts to work through elements of entity design. 

The only time the public will be invited by the government to have a say will be during the select committee process starting early 2022.

This legislation is to be followed by the implementation bill, which will be introduced next year, and finally an economic regulation bill, which will be introduced in early 2023. See timeline diagram below:

We at Democracy Action believe the plan to hand over control of our water to four mega entities is fundamentally flawed. For instance, under the government’s proposed model, the undemocratic governance structure, and the question of the ownership of the water assets are both highly contentious policies. Nor has Mahuta ruled out the introduction of water royalties.

Some water reform is needed, but there are other ways to do it. 

So, what can we do? 

Join us to fight this! We believe we can still win, but the only way we are going to do so is through sheer “people power.” It is time to stand up, speak out.

Democracy Action has joined with other groups to fight this terrible plan.  We are planning further action over the coming months.

To help, you can:

  • Forward information about the Three Waters plan to your friends and family.  

  • Join the Groundswell protest with your signs and banners on November 21 – subject to covid restrictions.

  • Deliver ‘Stop Three Waters’ flyers in your neighbourhood. Please contact us for copies.

  • Form local action groups: 
    • Lobby your MP – especially if Labour. MP’s contact details are available HERE. The Labour seats of East Coast, Hamilton East, Hamilton West, Hutt South, Ilam, Maungakiekie, Nelson, New Plymouth, Northcote, Northland, Ōtaki, Rangitata, Takanini, Tukituki, Upper Harbour, Wairarapa, Whanganui, and Whangarei are vulnerable to voter backlash.
    • Protest outside Labour electorate offices – subject to Covid restrictions.
  • Make a submission on the Economic Regulation and Consumer Protection for Three Waters discussion document. MBIE is consulting on how economic regulation and consumer protection for the future three waters system should be designed. “We want to hear from New Zealanders about whether economic regulation and consumer protection is needed for three waters, and if so, how this should look.” See more on the MBIE website, HERE. Submissions close 20 December.

Further reading

Visit: NZ Water Alliance website 

Waimakariri District Council Three Waters Reform page


Graham Adams: The government is stumbling towards disaster over Three Waters

Media coverage

NZ Herald: Three Waters backlash: Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says 'little benefit for Aucklanders', Winston Peters calls it 'a blatant power grab'

Stuff: Water reforms a 'must have' for sector, but councils furious at loss of control

To recap: 

  • Central Government is reviewing the regulation and supply of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater (the three waters) in New Zealand. Most three waters assets and services are currently owned and delivered by local councils. 
  • Last year the Government launched the Three Waters Reform Programme to reform Local Government Three Waters service delivery arrangements. The Government proposes to create four semi-autonomous multi-regional entities, replacing the services currently managed by the 67 councils.
  • Each of these entities would be managed by a three-tier governance structure. Councils and iwi would jointly appoint a regional representative group, who would manage concerns, strategy, and expectations of the entities. This group would appoint an independent selection panel, which would in turn appoint the board which manages and runs the entity. This governance structure which would remove democratic accountability and the loss of direct control by councils over our water services.

Go back to the November 2021 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

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. 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


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