< December 2021 newsletter


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.

Whangārei District Council (WDC) along with South Canterbury's Timaru District Council and Waimakariri District Council are seeking a legal judgment over what the word ownership means. WDC chief executive Rob Forlong said the government's now-mandated three waters plans appeared based on "ownership" that was very different from what was traditionally understood to be the meaning of this word.

The government had said councils would continue to "own" three waters assets. But that came with them having no control over the assets' governance or management, he said.

The legal proceedings have been filed to affirm the local government's rights and obligations as infrastructure asset owners.

The High Court declaration will have ramifications for all New Zealand councils. The outcome of the challenge has a pivotal function in "where to from here" in the national three waters restructure.

Meanwhile, 30 mayors and councils have sent a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seeking a meeting over the mandated three waters restructure. Irrespective of the contents of the mayors’ letter, there are other significant questions about Three Waters that many would like answered. Prominent among these is whether iwi will have the right to extract royalties under the new regime. This question was asked of the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta by RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan on November 2, and again on another occasion by Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers Union. Both times Mahuta simply avoided answering the question. Graham Adams, journalist, columnist, and reviewer writes in his commentary Ardern on the hook over Three Waters, published by the Democracy Project:

 “The only conclusion to be drawn from Mahuta’s repeated evasiveness is that, yes, iwi will indeed receive royalties (which are, of course, an attribute of ownership that will be denied to everyone else)”.

Adams reports that Williams didn’t fare any better when he asked Mahuta why 50:50 co-governance with iwi was required over the water assets.

Williams: “Why is the Treaty partnership relevant when we’re not talking about the water? We’re talking about the pipes and assets that ratepayers have paid for over generations.”

Mahuta described this as “an excellent question” before, once again, not answering the question.

Click HERE to listen to Jordan’s interview with Mahuta.

And click HERE for a summary of the Minister Mahuta podcast with the Taxpayers’ Union about Three Waters, by Matt Burgess (Insights newsletter).


Another bottom line for the Government is continued public ownership of water services. “Safeguards against future privatisation will be written into legislation to maintain ongoing ownership of the new entities by local authorities elected by communities”. (Department of Internal Affairs FAQ). However, Auckland’s Independent Māori Statutory Board did not get this memo. Chair David Taipari wants to see Māori not only have a stronger say in governance but also ownership of water assets. He says that around the country mana whenua are seeking co-governance and even co-ownership of infrastructure.

 “We need to be part of the decision making in terms of the structures being put in place, then decisions over who are going to be in the authority and the directors and such, and the way Māori continue to be involved on an ongoing basis rather than one day a year so there is a hit (sic) of work to do,” Mr Taipari said. (Waatea News: IMSB eyes water body seats)

Taipari is not a lone voice. He is merely reflecting the narrative within organisations such as the Iwi Leaders’ Groups/Iwi Chairs Forum. The Māori Economic Development Taskforce, set up under the then Minister of Māori Affairs Pita Sharples in 2010, proposed that the next step in the Treaty of Waitangi partnership as one of iwi as co-shareholders in national infrastructure:

 “Perhaps in roads, water services, health centres and other strategic infrastructure. It is not impossible to imagine Iwi as cornerstone shareholders in State-Owned Enterprises – making them State-Iwi Owned Enterprises”. IWI Infrastructure and Investment May 2010


 In response to the vociferous opposition to the proposed reforms from the vast majority of councils and many members of the public, the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has established a working group to recommend strengthened governance and accountability arrangements for the Three Waters Reform Programme.

The narrow terms of reference make it clear the government is still determined to plough ahead with its proposals, only looking to tweak the “proposed representation, governance and accountability arrangements for the new entities.”

Establishing democratic accountability and local influence would be some progress towards a more democratic model, but to do so the Government would need to reject one of its bottom-line objectives, which requires the governance framework of the Water Services Entities (WSE) to be set up as Treaty partnerships and to ensure that iwi from within the geographic area covered by a WSE have joint oversight of the WSE together with the relevant local authorities, (clause 17 Terms of Reference).

This partnership model is reflected in the make-up of the working group. The members are:

  • Chairperson: Doug Martin (public sector advisor)
  • Nine elected members of local authorities: Mayor Phil Goff, Auckland, Mayor Dr Jason Smith, Kaipara, Mayor Garry Webber, Western Bay of Plenty, Mayor Neil Holdom, New Plymouth, Mayor Campbell Barry, Lower Hutt, Mayor Rachel Reese, Nelson, Mayor Lianne Dalziel, Christchurch, Mayor Tim Cadogan, Central Otago, and Mayor Lyn Patterson, Masterton.
  • Nine Iwi/Māori representatives: Ngarimu Blair, Jamie Tuuta, Karen Vercoe, Ngahiwi Tomoana, Olivia Hall, Gabrielle Huria, Barry Bragg, and John Bishara. (One further representative for Entity A to be confirmed). The terms of reference state they are not there to represent their individual iwi or hapū but to represent a Treaty partner perspective.
  • Chair of the joint Central-Local Government Three Waters Steering Committee: Brian Hanna

The Working Group will report back in March 2022, which according to Mahuta, ensures there is time for the advice and recommendations to inform the final entity design.


The legislation for Three Waters is set to be introduced to Parliament in early December. The bill’s first reading is expected to take place this same month and will then be referred to a select committee - with public consultation invited in early 2022 through the select committee process.

While the Select Committee process will likely be a ‘going through the motions’ exercise for the government, it is still very important that opponents express their opposition, otherwise the Government will take our silence as approval. Please lookout for the opportunity to make a submission when the bill goes to the Select Committee.

Other ways you can help:

  • Auckland residents ­- Mayor Goff would like to hear from you. Auckland Council has launched a public consultation process. He is seeking your feedback on the government’s three waters programme until December 19. “We want to be able to say to the Government and Parliament that this isn’t a narrow point of view from the council, but something understood by the people of Auckland who we represent.” Click HERE to have your say.
  • 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.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union is organising a public awareness campaign involving erecting banners adjacent to busy roads or state highways. The idea is to pepper the country's State Highways with "Stop Three Waters" banners. If you can volunteer a site with good visibility for oncoming traffic, please email [email protected] with your address and details of the site (address, speed limit, and how you intend to erect the banner etc). TU: “We'd like to print and send banners in time for the Christmas traffic to the best sites volunteered”.
  • Or, if unable to help erect a banner, you could sponsor a banner or two. Please click HERE for details. And/or purchase A2-sized STOP THREE WATERS signs HERE.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union nationwide petition is still active at ThreeWatersPetition.nz
  • Hamilton residents: Councillor Geoff Taylor has launched a petition calling for the Government to halt its plan to hand over control of the city’s water to a mega entity. “Please go to the link and sign and take any opportunity you can to share this petition around all your networks”. Click HERE for the link to the petition.
  • Voice your concerns to your MP and local body councillors. Please click HERE for councillors’ email addresses, and HERE for MPs.

Media coverage

Media release: Working group to ensure local voice in Three Waters reform

RNZ: Three Waters working group named, terms of reference released

RNZ: District council trio file Three Waters challenge in Wellington High Court

Stuff: Govt can’t ignore ‘firestorm of public opposition’ to Three Waters – councillor



Go back to the December 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

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