Working group finds Three Waters proposal needs significant changes

Source: 1News

The Three Waters working group is recommending significant changes to the Government’s water reforms following strident opposition to the proposals.

File picture.

The Government announced plans late last year to create four publicly-owned water entities that would manage the country’s drinking, storm and wastewater, taking control away from councils.

The Government cited an estimated cost of $180 billion to fix New Zealand’s broken and decrepit water infrastructure.

The working group was established after concerns were raised by local Government, community groups and iwi about the privatisation of assets and loss of accountability.

While the independent working group - made up of Council and iwi representatives - acknowledged the need for reform, they saw areas that needed improvement.

“We received an overwhelming message from the sector that the status quo isn’t working, and reform is needed," chairman Doug Martin said.

“We are proposing a model that places our waters and the health of our communities at the centre of all decision-making, it retains public ownership and ensures local representation.”

Their key findings noted issues around ownership, protection against privatisation and the ability to maintain a local voice within large entities.

Their recommendations include creating a public shareholding structure, where councils would hold shares allowing for community ownership of the water services assets. In this instance, councils would have to agree unanimously for an asset to be sold.

Tukuroirangi Morgan, an iwi representative on the group, emphasised this, saying privatisation does not fit with a Māori worldview and worked to safeguard any move by a future government who might think seriously about privatisation.

In addition, the group wants to see local voices routinely considered in the allocation of resources through the inclusion of sub-committees made up of community members and iwi/hapū in each region. The group acknowledged that while four entities seemed appropriate, what was missing was another layer which they would like to see as a sub-regional representative layer.

They want to see tighter accountability from each Water Services Entity to the community through stronger reporting mechanisms, and the clarification of roles in the Regional Representative groups.

The group endorsed the principle of Te Mana o Te Wai as the underlying principle for the changes and would like to see it extended to all aspects of the reform.

The report highlighted the intention of improved Three Waters service delivery and environmental protection particularly through increased representation of communities including iwi, emphasising co-governance as a central principle.

The Working Group also rebuked the Government for their communication regarding the reforms, urging them to do better.

A 1News poll in January showed that around 35 per cent of people were unsure of the reforms or were unaware they were happening at all.

“We must not underestimate the scale of the reforms and urge the Government to do a better job of communicating and engaging with New Zealanders about the reforms," Martin said.

Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta is expected to respond to the report in due course.