< 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

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • 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

References

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


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