Three Waters debates need to be based on fact - Ardern

Source: 1News

As a handful of people gathered in Palmerston North to protest the Three Waters reforms, Jacinda Ardern says it's important that debate about the topic remains respectful.

The PM says it's the Government's job to dispel disinformation.

The protesters gathered ahead of the Local Government NZ conference. Some were spotted holding placards that said "hands off our water" and "our water our say", with the website of a Covid-19 vaccine misinformation group included underneath.

When asked if she was concerned about the accuracy of information circulating in the public about Three Waters, the Prime Minister said it was important that any debate about the reforms was based on fact.

She said it was up to the Government to get information out about Three Waters.

"It's our job to try and dispel disinformation where we see it arise. It is the environment we have now - perhaps it's a bit tougher to address that than it was before."

READ MORE: Government pushing on with Three Waters reform plan

Ardern said she welcomed debate and discussion, but that it needed to be done respectfully and in a way that ensured people felt safe.

She said, in recent times, "there has been a change of tone in some of the debate we've seen". In her speech to local government politicians, she said: "It is abhorrent to have seen examples over the past year of those representing their communities in public duty facing violence.

"There has been a lot of commentary on [Three Waters] that has at times overshadowed some of the very basic and crucial reasons for change."

As for some of the concerns councils had about the reforms - such as the lack of more direct control over their assets under the reform programme's creation of four regional water entities and its co-governance model - Ardern said the Parliamentary submissions process would work through the finer details.

READ MORE: Claims Māori will own NZ’s water infrastructure dismissed

Submissions for the Water Services Entities Bill opened on June 22 and will close on Friday. The National Party had been calling for a six-month public submission period, accusing the Government of trying to rush through the law change.

Ardern said the Government had listened to councils' feedback. In April, it accepted almost all recommendations to proposals from an independent working group. The working group was established after concerns were raised by local Government, community groups and iwi about the privatisation of assets and the loss of accountability.

"You can see where we are genuinely trying to work openly with local government," Ardern said. Meanwhile, National said the April announcement did "nothing to address the key concerns communities have about the reforms".

A number of councils remain opposed to the reforms. However, Ardern said there was consensus in the local government sector that action was required on Three Waters.

"Ultimately, I don't think equally any local government politician would want to have to face answering questions over why a rates bill has gone up by, say, up to $9000. The status quo is not an option."

On Tuesday, the Government announced it would give councils at least $350,000 each to prepare for the Three Waters reforms.

The Three Waters reform project was triggered by an outbreak of waterborne disease gastroenteritis in Havelock North in 2016. It led to the death of four people and made thousands more seriously ill.

A report following the incident found district council-run public drinking water systems were potentially unsafe because of long-term under-investment.

The Government estimated up to $180 billion may need to be spent over the next 30 years to upgrade the country's drinking water, waste and stormwater infrastructure.