Three Waters bill passes in Parliament

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

After much controversy surrounding the Three Waters reforms, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has confirmed the Water Services Entities Bill has passed its third reading in Parliament in a statement today.

It's the first of three bills to ensure affordable drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services.

“The passage of today’s bill is an important step in addressing a fundamental cost of living issue that will affect all New Zealanders for decades to come if left unfixed."

“By establishing four new publicly-owned water services entities with the size and scale to meet the challenges we face, the legislation passed today forms a strong base for improved, effective and efficient management of water services and infrastructure,” Mahuta said.

It follows a series of dilemmas in government, the most recent being the cabinet's backdown on an entrenchment cause that caught the ire of constitutional lawyers, and which National leader Christopher Luxon called for Mahuta to be sacked after "defying a cabinet decision". 

The cabinet had previously agreed to amend the Water Services Bill to add an entrenchment provision that would prevent the privatisation of water. Mahuta wrote to other political parties seeking their support for a 75 per cent entrenchment threshold. But National and Act objected.

Last-minute change

All Labour MPs, including ministers, did vote for a Green Party amendment to the Bill to entrench a 60 percent provision to keep water assets in public ownership - which would force any attempt to privatise the infrastructure to need a supermajority in the House. 

After lawyers called out the entrenchment Labour agreed to remove the clause, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying the caucus had made a "mistake".

The legislation directs the publicly owned, nonprofit water service providers to operate in the best interests of current and prospective homeowners and customers by:

  • protecting public health and the environment while efficiently and cost-effectively;
  • supplying water services and infrastructure;
  • supporting and enabling the construction of new homes and cities while ensuring that they are run ethically and provide water services that are resistant to the effects of climate change and natural hazards.

Waikato-Tainui approves

In a statement, Te Arataura chairman Tukoroirangi Morgan says the passing of the bill is a watershed moment for the country and Waikato-Tainui.

“The Water Services Entity Bill provides us with a once-in-a-lifetime tangible opportunity to be at the decision-making table and have our voice ingrained into the strategic direction of these new water entities.

“The current system has not delivered for anyone and I am excited about the work ahead because it is critical that we set a platform that is achievable and sustainable.”

Morgan also acknowledged Mahuta for persevering "in the face of a torrent of unprecedented and persistent misguided attacks".  

"We recognise it has not been easy but this will be marked as a legacy achievement for generations,” Morgan said.