Grant Robertson says iwi involvement at a strategic level in Three Waters gives “further safeguards” that water assets won’t be sold off.
The Infrastructure Minister stood alongside Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to announce the next steps in centralising New Zealand’s drinking, storm and wastewater on Friday morning.
The Government has accepted almost all recommendations on the Three Waters proposals from an independent working group, as it moves ahead with transferring authority into four new regional entities.
Robertson emphasised the importance of having iwi involved in the process, and shot down claims made about Māori owning the country’s water infrastructure under the reforms.
He said the ownership of the entities themselves would remain with councils, and there would be no co-governance arrangements at an “operational board level”.
But “shared strategic planning” between councils and iwi would occur instead, which he deemed an asset to the reforms.
“To reiterate again, there are no co-governance arrangements at an operational board level, at a regional level there will be shared strategic planning between councils and iwi Māori.
“Iwi Māori have never expressed a wish to sell water assets and they bring an intergenerational long-term lens to issues relating to water in their area.
“Having their participation alongside councils at the strategic level gives further safeguards that water assets will not be sold off.”
He said despite “some of the comment” being made around Three Waters and co-governance, he’d been struck by the vast amount of councils that had “wanted a co-governance arrangement”.
“That’s because councils are used to it in their own work and understand its value,” Robertson said.
“In turn, iwi on the working group were supportive of the clarity of council ownership of the assets on behalf of their communities.”
Lisa Tuhamai, kaiwhakahaere of South Island iwi Ngāi Tahu on Friday welcomed the government’s announcement, and commended it for accepting the majority of the working group’s advice.
“We are pleased that community representation and environmental protections will be strengthened,” Tuhamai said.
“The ministers have agreed that regional sub-committees will feed into the water service entities’ regional representative oversight groups, ensuring local councils and iwi/hapū have their voices heard on the matters that most affect them.”
Tuku Morgan (Waikato Tainui), is a member of the Three Waters working group who in March dismissed claims that Māori would own the country’s water infrastructure under the reforms.
“There is a view being promoted by some of the councillors around the country that this is a Māori grab for power, that we are interested in owning these water assets,” he told 1News.
“It’s absolute nonsense. We have always said, that we’re not interested in owning the water assets. What we’re interested in is the proprietor rights over water, and that is a discussion to be had with the Crown, not with councils.”
Opposition dubs Three Waters agreement 'fatally flawed'
National's local government spokesperson Simon Watts said the announcements made on Friday were mere "tweaks" in the Government's "fatally flawed" Three Waters reforms.
He said the tweaks "do nothing to address the key concerns communities have about the reforms".
“According to the Government, local councils will still be the ‘owners’ of their assets – but they won’t actually have any control over them. It’s like saying you own a house but don’t get to decide where to put the furniture," he said of the shareholding model.
“National will not support reforms that will strip councils and ratepayers of control over their assets and will repeal Labour’s four entity model.”
Robertson said if opposition parties were concerned about water ownership, "here's the time to step up if you believe in public ownership".
Government will need support to entrench against privatisation of the assets.
"Now, they can step up and say 'yeah. we will agree that these assets won't be sold'," Robertson said.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the Government had "taken on board to the greatest extent possible the most significant concerns of the sector" - centred around representation, governance and local voice.
She said the regional representation group, then the sub-regional group under that, would allow for high-level strategic decisions to be taken back closer to the ground and to communities.