Changes to Three Waters reform but co-governance to stay

By James Perry

The government's controversial Three Waters legislation will be tweaked following recommendations by the Parliament's finance and expenditure Committee in a report released today. 

The committee recommended rural, provincial and metropolitan councils now be present on the four regional groups that will be established under the legislation. 

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has welcomed the report, saying the recommendations make the proposed water reforms workable, and "lessen the burden of necessary water infrastructure investment on ratepayers..

“Government, councils and communities agree we need to fix water networks and keep costs down. Financially sustainable investment in water infrastructure is beyond the reach of most of our 67 local councils and their ratepayers if they work in isolation.

“Keeping a lid on rates rises is imperative, as households, businesses, communities and councils around the country face cost of living challenges.

“When an estimated 34,000 New Zealanders get sick from drinking water each year, that is a crisis. We are committed to ensuring everyone’s drinking water is clean, boil water notices are minimised, sewage leaks get fixed, and pipes are in the ground to help build new homes, in the most cost-effective way possible."

Co-governance stays

The co-governance aspect of the legislation, which has drawn criticism from centre-right parties in Parliament as well as New Zealand First, will be retained, meaning the territorial authorities and mana whenua would still have equal representation on the boards of the four entities.

NZ First leader Winston Peters says the government "arrogantly" ignored New Zealanders and is continuing what he calls an "insidious plan for a social and cultural re-engineering programme".

"Our democracy is at an inflection point in history and Kiwis need to understand it's now or never to answer democracy’s call."

National's spokesperson for local government, Simon Watts, says the government has not listened to the "overwhelming" opposition to the proposed water reforms and again says National will repeal the bill if it becomes law.

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta gave assurances that they would consider the alternative Three Waters model proposed by the Auckland, Christchurch and Waimakariri mayors.

“I lodged a motion in the select committee last week to extend our deliberations to properly consider the mayors’ proposal but Labour MPs used their majority to block the motion - ensuring the bill would be sent back to the House without adequately considering the new proposal.

'Just talk'

“It shows that Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta's promises of consideration and open dialogue with mayors about their alternatives are just talk. Labour has no intention of making any real changes to its reforms."

Mahuta however says the government has listened to and acted on the concerns put forward in the more than 80,000 submissions.

“Our response is clear: entities will be ‘plan-takers’ not ‘plan-makers’.

“We have agreed to stronger rules to require water entities to better support and enable planning processes and growth. This gives councils and their communities certainty they will still be in the driving seat when it comes to planning and development.

“We remain firmly of the view that the future affordability and sustainability of our water infrastructure is best served by reform underpinned by the four fundamentals of public ownership, balance sheet separation, good governance, and Treaty partnership,” Nanaia Mahuta says.