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Bruce Smith

Three Waters Journey – Part 3

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Here is Part 3 of the Westland District Council Mayor’s Three Waters journey
– as of 24 August 2021.

The foundation of our democracy is the law applied equally to us all to ensure justice and fairness in a just and fair society as granted to all the subjects of Her Majesty the Queen.

There is a growing opinion that the three waters proposal from Government is an attack on democracy something that is also occurring in other areas for this government’s reform program.

A Mayor’s role is to represent his ratepayers and that includes taking the view of his ratepayers to Government.

It is not the role of a Mayor to take the views of Government to his ratepayers – that’s what MPs do.

Some clearly have this around the wrong way at present but that is changing.

So, what’s changed since the 24th of July that I can add to my journey with the proposed three waters reform proposal from Government?

The case for change has not been proven and that’s reinforced by the confusion and lack of consistency coming out of Wellington.

I support the supply of good water delivered by councils and the question I ask at every meeting is do you get slime coming out of your shower as portrayed in the government’s three waters advertisement on both tv and social media around the country.

The answer at every meeting is a firm NO.

Many Mayors and that number exceeds 30 of the 67 Mayors in New Zealand have not been convinced as to how the proposed reforms will benefit their communities and I am one of them. That number will increase substantially.

Although the case for change has not been made the case for a water regulator has been made and looks sound.

The productivity commission reported that the regulation should come first in any reform proposal not last.

Many say the bar has been set too high and we think New Zealanders /water users won’t be able to afford the gold-plated model being legislated by government.

The rules set by government for a water regulator directs a one size fits all model for New Zealand.

We are a country with a small population spread over a large area and there are over 75,000 water suppliers that are intended to be captured by the regulator.

If you supply your house and one more, you become a supplier of water.

Taking water from the aquifer requires a completely different model to taking water from a river in high rain fall areas.

To compare Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch to Haast or Karamea is nonsense. Westland is 340km long with 8,800 people and has high rainfall. Over 12m a year falls in the crop river.

Present councils’ Long Term Plans around New Zealand reflect considerable more spending on three waters infrastructure which have not been calculated in the figures supplied by the Department of Internal Affairs – it’s in the millions and is a material omission.

In reality this omission alone is more than enough to ensure the Government should PAUSE AND RESET on its proposed three waters reforms.

The focus on fresh water causing health issues by government is mischievous with councils around New Zealand supplying clean healthy water with very few exceptions.

The waste of money on the $3.5 million dirty trout carton campaign has added no value and runs at exactly the same time as government seeks to delay councils consulting with their communities on the basis Councils don’t have sufficient information.

I ask how Councils who have decades of experience, staff and information running three water operations measures against Government which has less than 2 years, an ideological idea and little practical experience with water delivery.

We say put the regulator in place and revisit any future structure in 6 years – and PAUSE AND RESET now.

By then the regulator will have developed tested sensible standards and councils will have evidence to understand credible costs.

Government could use $1 billion of the $2 billion carrot to subsidise councils’ three water upgrades – or is the quality of water not the real objective?

We have been told for many months that one of the major advantages for the reform is to allow the water supplier to borrow up to $160 billion which councils could not do.

We are now informed that the reason the water suppliers can borrow up to 8.5 times revenue against the commercial sector’s 1.5 is that the Government – that’s you, the tax payer – will under write their debt. (Good luck with that!)

The transfer or confiscation from many Councils of up to 30% of total assets for an 8 cents in the dollar payment is not commercially acceptable and feels reckless. Please listen to our communities as they will not support it across New Zealand. Watch this space.

No matter what government legislates, community engagement as early as possible is now happening and the people will have their say.

We struggle with a concept that has a Rolls Royce untested model as an experiment for something so fundamental as water – based on a Scottish model questioned as being a model we should not follow in the Castelli report.

The proposed governance structure is complex, removing almost all local democracy.

The government needs to PAUSE AND RESET the process for at least 12 months after the regulator is in place.

There is a feeling Councils, and ratepayers, are being dealt to by government.

Let’s talk about localism, as the loss of local control and influence feels like a step too far.

If the three waters assets of the people of Westland are confiscated by Government and transferred to an operating company, the experts say its odds on one of the major corporations in New Zealand or overseas will get the contract to supply the water.

They will use them when they don’t have an alternative a local supplier.

Localism is where most of your money paid for in rates, which includes water, is spent locally to keep our small coast towns’ economies sustainable.

On the coast keeping our small communities alive and vibrant requires local employment to ensure our school rolls, local police numbers, health budgets, shops and most important, our volunteer services, can function, is a major focus.

No government would survive the confiscation of assets paid for and built up over generations with compensation at 8 cents in the dollar – the uproar around New Zealand would be huge and the people will have the final say.

Let’s test confiscation of three water assets against the democracy we live in, and it fails on all levels including, I suspect, in law.

Government has said its not confiscation, that the three water assets will still be owned by the same people.

That is an argument that fails miserably as the assets we are talking about were bought and paid for by the people of Westland not the people of New Zealand.

It’s the same in every district in New Zealand

The right of disposition of strategic assets rests with the people of Westland and no one else.

It fails the democracy test as we remember our fathers and grandparents fought to retain the right of one man/one women, one vote

I asked earlier If it’s not about water what is it about. I think you already know the answer to this question.

The borrowing of up to $160 billion by the new proposed entities using the assets confiscated from our councils and people and paid for by generations of New Zealanders as security feels reckless.

The time frames being urgently pursued by government suggest this is not about three waters.

If it was why the urgency?

What other councils do around New Zealand is up to them however engagement with all ratepayers and a public referendum in every district would allow our residents and ratepayers who have along with their families over generations paid for these three water assets to make the decision to opt in or out.

Direction must come directly from our people.

We will be going out to engage with our communities in the next few days.

The most important matter that arises from the three waters proposal is not about water it is about our democracy being undermined continuously in a covert way with no mandate from the people of New Zealand.

Yes, we had an election in 2020 but no party put it to the people of New Zealand that they wanted the country to move from being a democratic freedom based society and move to centralised control of all aspects of our lives.

If you have a concern about the proposed three water agenda of Government, email your MP and that includes all political parties.

Email your Mayor and Councillors as well.

When public engagement starts get involved, express your opinions, ensure your voice is heard.

As a final note, governments come and go, poor ideology driven direction can be reversed and the power is with the people – and that’s you and your family as New Zealanders.

Catch you later.

Please note, Part 1 of Mayor Smith’s Three Waters journey can be seen HERE, and Part 2 HERE.