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Frank Newman

The Three Waters Lie – democracy the loser

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The Three Waters debacle exemplifies what’s so bad about the 2020 Labour government. It also explains why there is such derision and hostility towards Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta in particular.

Three Waters is an appalling work of political manipulation and misinformation. Mike Hosking summed it up pretty well when he said (Newstalk ZB, 24/22/22) Three Waters was a…

“… treaty deal not an infrastructure project. It’s about Maori and not the quality of our water and never has been. The idea that water is more important to Maori than it is to anyone else is not only wrong, it’s an insult. The whole thing from day one is a rort, based on a lie. We must not forget that most of the water in this country is absolutely fine, there isn’t an issue, there never has been.

It is a classic example of a con that’s got too complex and they have failed to keep up with the web of dishonesty and all of a sudden it’s been exposed so Ardern claims it’s all confusing. The only confusion is the unravelling of the BS. We aren’t confused, never have been. Councils don’t want it. Rates are for locals. Most of our water is fine. Maori are no more less important than anyone else. Maybe if they had been honest and campaigned on this in the election, they wouldn’t be hoisted by all this now.”

He’s right, Three Waters has been a lie from the beginning. It was never about safer water, saving money, or achieving operational efficiencies. It’s always been about Maori privilege. That’s why all of the common-sense solutions that did not involve Maori at the governance table were never considered.

Labour has lied to conceal that agenda – just like they sat on the He Puapua report until after the 2020 election.

Labour lied in its infantile $3.5 million advertising campaign, which began in June 2021. The ads were canned after the Department of Internal Affairs “raised concerns” that they breached government advertising guidelines that require publicly funded campaigns to be accurate, factual and unbiased. Clearly, they were not accurate, not factual and not unbiased.

Labour lied to local councils when they initially said they could opt out of Three Waters, but changed to a compulsory “all in” approach. Fortunately, most councils knew they had been shafted. Then Masterton Councillor Tina Nixon made her thoughts known by describing the government as “A deceitful lying pack of bastards”. 

They lied to ratepayers when they said councils would still own the water assets when Section 166 of the Water Services Entities Bill states they would have no rights of ownership: “A territorial authority owner… has no right, title, or interest… in the assets, security, debts, or liabilities of a water services entity… and must not receive any equity return, directly or indirectly, from a water services entity.”

They lied when they said, “At least 34,000 New Zealanders become ill from drinking tap water every year”. Ministry of Health annual water quality audits have shown there is no crisis, as have the regular surveillance reports from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

They lied when they said the case for change is “compelling”. It’s not. Independent analysts have said the model is unreliable. Castalia said, “the Reform Scenario is founded on unsound evidence and faulty analysis… the evidence does not establish that the intended benefits will materialise.” Farrierswier said, “the analysis… should not be relied on to project… pricing outcomes… the forecasts are inherently uncertain.”

The case for change is based on a questionable model and an accumulation of debt the modellers assume does not need to be repaid. It assumes an absurdly low interest rate of 3.5% for an entity with a debt level consistent with a “speculative” B-grade credit rating.

The case for change is fake and the model is hopelessly unreliable, even when projecting 10 years out rather than the 30 years it takes. Any business analyst worth their salt would throw the model in the trash. And why has the media not asked the basic question about the viability of the forecasts, and more so given where interest rates are today? It’s a simple enough question for a journalist to ask: What is the impact if 7% is assumed, instead of 3.5%?

Labour lied when it said, “communities will retain an influence over their Three Waters assets”. Ratepayers will have little or no influence over the water assets that will be taken from them without fair compensation. Iwi/hapu will have half of the seats around the decision-making table; nothing will happen without their say-so.

They lied when they said they would consult with the public, when in fact the Finance and Expenditure Committee largely ignored the more than 80.000 submissions. It was a sham consultation.

This litany of lies conceals the true intention of the reform and that’s to hand control of water assets to Maori. The Te Mana o te Wai (the power of water) statements embedded in the Bill are proof of that. Only iwi and hapu can provide these statements. There is no right to challenge their validity even though they could be nothing more than gibberish about past use and spiritual connection, which the water entities are then required to “give effect” to.

And to ensure all 180 iwi do so, Minister Mahuta saw fit to allocate $3.2 million a year to pay them to do exactly that.

The hand of Nanaia Mahuta was well and truly revealed when the Three Waters was extended to five waters when the Bill was reported back to Parliament for its second reading. Even the PM and cabinet ministers were not aware that the three waters (drinking water, wastewater and stormwater) had become five waters (seawater and geothermal water).  

While we may expect politicians to lie and deceive, what is especially disappointing is how readily third parties like Local Government NZ and the media are prepared to go along with the political narrative for no other reason than it was in their own best interests to do so. They are as culpable as the politicians themselves and have sullied their reputations.

Unfortunately, the consequences of Three Waters go beyond a debate about infrastructure. The lies, the gross dishonesty, and the consultation charade must inevitably damage the public’s confidence in Parliament and democracy itself.

Who could now be bothered putting any effort into making a submission to Parliament when they not only know their opinion will be ignored, but realise they are being played and treated like a fool?

And why would anyone have any respect for Parliament and politicians when politicians have destroyed any notion that we live in a representative democracy founded on the principles of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  It is hardly surprising that people are angry and that anger is vented on social media and directly at Labour Party politicians who dare to venture out in public.

The truth is Labour does not believe in democracy – at least not the kind of democracy that the people want and not the kind of democracy that has empowered and liberated communities throughout history and created unprecedented prosperity.

What they want is the sort of democracy that their colleague Tamati Coffey described when he said he wanted to “tweak democracy to make it work for us here in Aotearoa”.

What he really means is the kind of democracy that suits his personal agenda for Maori rule, where he is one of a handful of elites at the top of the pecking order.

Labour’s downfall will be that they have let Nanaia Mahuta and her Maori caucus colleagues run amuck with her personal agendas. Let’s hope their downfall is a lesson for future generations – the lesson being that tribalism and racial privilege are a fast track to division and social chaos.

Mike Hosking is right when he says, “Maori are no more less important than anyone else”. And that is the crux of the matter. Are we going to accept that Maori should rule simply because their ancestors (or a fractional part of their ancestry) arrived before our ancestors? If so what a foolish and spineless society we would be.