< September 2021 newsletter

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. 

The programme includes pathways for enhanced participation by not only iwi groups, but also whānau and hapū. Provisions include the following:

  • A Mana Whenua Group for each of the four entities will be established to guide strategic performance expectations alongside local government. Each Mana Whenua Group will have equal voting rights to local government.
  • The entities will be required to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai, as set out in legislation, but also as articulated by mana whenua over a defined waterbody, i.e. mana whenua define what Te Mana o Te Wai means to their specific location.
  • The entities would fund and support capability and capacity for mana whenua to participate. 
  • Each entity board will be required to have collective competencies in Treaty of Waitangi, mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori and te ao Māori. An individual or a number of individuals will be required to have expertise in the exercise of kaitiakitanga, tikanga & mātauranga Māori relating to delivering water services.

Illustration: Taumata Arowai and Three Waters Reform Programme iwi/Māori hui a motu A3 (PDF, 6MB). The document can be found on the DIA website HERE.

Read more about how Iwi/Māori interests are to be incorporated into the system on the Department of Internal Affairs website HERE. 

Gary Judd QC is very critical of this agenda, writing in his commentary ‘Ideological government indulges sectional political constituency’ that cabinet papers show the clear intention to establish a system dominated by the rights and interests of iwi/Māori. Mr Judd goes on to suggest that the Cabinet should explain why iwi/Māori are being singled out as the only ones within the country who have rights and interests. 

“Here we have the Minister recommending and Cabinet agreeing to a section of society being given significant control of assets and substantial influence over the delivery of services which are vital to the health and well-being of all New Zealanders”.

Furthermore, Mr Judd points out that only iwi will have ownership rights, local authorities will have none. “As the proposal deprives local authorities of all the rights of ownership, this “ownership” is a fiction. It is “spin” on a grand scale”.

“(The Government) do not care if their plan divorces providers from the communities they are supposed to serve and reduces accountability. In doing so they are taking the opportunity to indulge a sectional political constituency at the expense of the principles of democracy and the community”.

Click HERE to read Mr Judd’s commentary in full.

A growing number of Councils across the country are also expressing alarm about these reforms. The primary concern appears to relate to the Government’s plan for Councils to hand over billions of dollars of assets that have been paid for by ratepayers over many decades to four mega-entities to be co-governed by iwi. This will result in a loss of local control - there will be very little in the way of mechanisms whereby citizens can hold decision-makers to account. Waimakariri mayor Dan Gordon: “We are also concerned at the proposed Governance and Management structure and the probability that we will have little influence in the future.”

Former MP Richard Prebble in a recent op-ed published in the NZ Herald - The polls toll woe for Labour: 

“Take the proposed transfer of ratepayer-owned water assets into four new entities. Labour says its planned Three Waters reforms are to improve efficiency”.

There is another agenda. Cabinet agreed that a high-level principle of partnership with iwi/Māori will be followed throughout the reform programme, and reflected in the new three waters service delivery system".

“How co-governance of our water supply improves efficiency is yet to be explained”

Councils are concerned not only at the content of the reform, but also at the alarming rate at which it is being pushed through. In a statement from a recent Canterbury Mayoral Forum 10 mayors from the region collectively said they have “serious concerns” about the timeframe of the reforms and fear residents may not have enough time for meaningful engagement.

Lack of Clarity 

Another aspect of the reform programme was raised at a recent public forum organised by the Waimate District Council. Mayor Craig Rowley:

 “As things stand, we have great difficulty understanding the budgeted numbers presented by the Department of Internal Affairs, and from day one we have questioned the modelling and stated on record that the figures are flawed.” 

“On your behalf, we are continuing to ask the important questions to Government, though remain frustrated with the lack of clarity and response we are getting back”.

The Three Waters service delivery proposal is currently voluntary. Councils can decide to opt out, but there are fears the voluntary nature might change. Councillors around the country are warning that the Government might make the reforms compulsory before the public can have their say. As Waimate Mayor Rowley said while addressing a public forum last month: “This decision is the largest issue facing local government in 30 years and as such, is a decision that requires your collective voice and feedback.” 

Over at Westland District Council, the Mayor Bruce Smith is calling for a binding referendum, seeking direction on in or out. “It’s called democracy” says Mayor Smith.

Some councils surveying the community on the proposed changes. Christchurch City Council Chief Executive Dawn Baxendale: “We want residents to be part of our decision-making process.” 

“The implications of these reforms will be felt for generations, so we need to consider them carefully and weigh all the issue.” 

People have until September 12 to complete the Christchurch council’s survey. It is available by clicking HERE 

Napier City Council is also seeking its community’s views on these proposed reforms. Their survey is available HERE


  • Contact your local council to find out how they plan to engage with the public.
  • Let your mayor and councillors know what you think. Email addresses can be found HERE. For some idea on what to include in your email/letter see the Democracy Action example available HERE. Also see the NZCPR suggested letter calling for a referendum on their ‘Say no to 3 waters!’ page.
  • Attend any public meetings held by your council to discuss concerns about the reform programme.
  • Volunteer to deliver flyers. The NZ Centre for Political Research (NZCPR) has launched a public information campaign and is calling for volunteers to deliver pamphlets around communities outlining the situation and the need for a referendum. A suitable leaflet can be found on the Three Waters campaign page: nzcpr.com/3waters. (We have some available but as we are based in Auckland, we are unable to send under lockdown 4. Those under lockdown level 3 could order some from your local print shop). 
  • NZCPR is also fundraising for a nation-wide newspaper and social media public information campaign. If you would like to support the fundraiser, please click HERE.
  • Express your concerns to your MPs


Office of the Minister Local Government Cabinet Paper 14 June 2021 Protecting and Promoting Iwi/Māori Rights and Interests in the New Three Waters Service Delivery Model

Three Waters Guidance for councils over the next eight weeks (30 July 2021)

Media coverage

Stuff: Fifty mayors speak out on water reforms

Stuff: More South Island mayors join call for minister to halt water reforms

Stuff: 'Serious concerns': Canterbury councils call for pause to three waters reform

Stuff: Waimate residents feel future Three Waters governance is 'undemocratic' 

Stuff: Wellington City Council considers referendum on water reforms

Stuff: Timaru District Council plans public meetings over Three Waters

Stuff: Councillors call for early public feedback on Government's water reforms

Mike Yardley at Stuff: Axe Three Waters model, co-fund infrastructure projects

Go back to the September 2021 newsletter


New Land and Water Regional Plan for Otago Regional Council

Image source: https://www.orc.govt.nz/media/11399/hierarchy-of-plans.jpg The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is in the process of developing a new Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) - in partnership with Kāi Tahu iwi. Together, they are talking with catchment groups, industry groups and subject experts to help develop the region’s new Plan for freshwater. This plan will include rules and limits on water and land use. 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

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

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

Partnership trumps good governance - the Taupō water monitoring deal

The Waikato Regional Council is planning to outsource the monitoring of the waters in and around Lake Taupo and its tributaries to the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board. This is despite the Council having identified the risk that it may be expected to undertake similar agreements with other iwi authorities or local authorities that may result in not being able to deliver on expectations due to competing priorities.   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

Action Plan for Healthy Waterways

Thank you to everyone who took the opportunity to make a submission on the Government’s 'Action for Healthy Waterways' discussion document. Around seventeen and a half thousand submissions were received, reflecting much interest in the proposals. From a democracy point of view, it is of great concern that several proposals point to the undermining of the democratic control of water, and include the intention to require local authorities to compulsorily include a vague and undefined set of values and interests in the management of the water bodies and freshwater ecosystems in their region. Continue reading

Have your say on looking after our water

The Ministry for the Environment is proposing a raft of legislative and regulatory changes to clean up lakes and rivers within “a generation”.  Continue reading


Last week the Waitangi Tribunal released its report on stage 2* of the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources inquiry. The report recommends two specific amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and a number of paths and mechanisms for co-governance and co-management. Continue reading

Iwi seeking governance of the Marine & Coastal Area, and authority over water

On March 26 Maori claimants from around the country gathered to make submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal for the rights to their coastal water areas, saying that since the foreshore and seabed march in 2004, progress has been slow in recognising iwi governance of their marine and coastal areas. Continue reading

Maori Council demands the control of water

The Waitangi Tribunal has recently been hearing the final part of stage of two of its inquiry into a variety of claims relating to New Zealand’s fresh water resources. (A list of the matters the Tribunal is focusing on is available on the Waitangi Tribunal website, see HERE.) Continue reading

Government's Freshwater Policy

The government released its water policy last month, see HERE. It avoids dealing with the question of ownership, instead focusing first on cleaning up rivers, and then looking into the more difficult issue of water allocation. Continue reading

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


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

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

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