by Simon Watts, National Party spokesperson on Local Government
Last week the Select Committee finished its deliberations on Labour’s Three Waters Bill, and while I wish I could say they listened to the public, the Bill is now worse than ever.
Three Waters has become five, with coastal and geothermal water now subject to ‘te mana o te wai’ statements from Iwi and the Bill now treats some public parks and reserves as stormwater assets, lining them up for confiscation from communities.
Labour has made it clear their only priority is getting this passed into law as soon as possible, regardless of what Kiwis have to say about it, but we won’t take this lying down.
National and I will stand up for the 88,267 submitters on the Bill and every Kiwi who opposes these reforms, we’ll push for real solutions and keep opposing Labour’s broken reforms.
Labour may ram this Bill through, but under a National Government, it’ll be gone, and we’ll put assets back in community hands and keep them there. That’s a promise.
Labour must rule out confiscating public parks
One of the most worrying changes in the Bill is to the definition of stormwater assets. Many public parks and reserves also serve as stormwater assets. Currently, that’s not a problem as councils own both and keep them in community hands. Not content with taking the pipes, the Three Waters Bill has now been changed to include these dual-use assets eligible to be taken by Labour’s mega-entities.
Soon public parks like Waitangi Park in Wellington could be taken away from local ownership and managed by the same co-governed mega-entities that will control the pipes.
These public spaces are crucial parts of community life. It’s where kids play rugby and soccer, families have picnics, and dog owners take their pets for a run-around.
I asked the Minister directly to rule out any public parks or reserves being taken, and the fact she couldn’t even give a straight answer speaks for itself. The lack of clarity around what assets will and won’t be confiscated from community control is just another example of the incompetence of these broken reforms and how Labour can’t be trusted.
Three Waters has become Five Waters
Three Waters has slowly become less and less about pipes in the ground and getting clean water for Kiwis and more and more about Labour’s ideological centralisation agenda. There’s no better example of that than the changes they’ve made to ‘te mana o te wai’ (power/significance of the water).
Under Labour’s Three Waters, Iwi groups, and only Iwi groups, can submit ‘te mana o te wai’ statements about certain bodies of water that water entities must respond to. National’s position on this has been clear from the start. Lots of communities have interests in water, including property owners and farmers. Restricting these statements to only Iwi is wrong.
With the new version of the Bill, these statements won’t just apply to three waters but five, bringing geothermal and coastal waters into scope. This is a massive change from current policy, especially given only one group can submit ‘te mana o te wai’ statements.
This change is unacceptable, and I’ve submitted an amendment to the Bill to remove it. It’s got nothing to do with Three Waters and needs to be left on the cutting room floor.
Labour is progressing this Bill at all costs
A Second Reading debate in Parliament is a chance for MPs to discuss the changes to Bills made by Select Committees, and I wish I could have spoken about all the significant changes that were made, but sadly, there were none.
The fact that job advertisements for CEOs of the mega-entities were put out before a single oral submission was heard tells you all you need to know about Labour’s willingness to listen to change.
The debating chamber was fired up with over 20 mayors sitting in the public gallery, and it was clear just how worried Labour’s MPs were. When this Bill was first debated in parliament, I said it was a 300-page severance letter for them, and that’s never been more true.
Despite the opposition, every single Labour and Green MP voted for these ‘reforms.‘
Talking Three Waters on Q+A
Last weekend, I spoke on Q&A on behalf of New Zealanders frustrated with Labour’s Three Waters and talked about how we’d approach reform.
What’s blatantly obvious is this government is not listening. The voices from councils, community groups and citizens from the deep south to the far north are clear; these reforms are unworkable.
People in our communities are the ones that know these problems best, and their insight has been invaluable. Labour’s mega-entities model will hurt those local voices and take communities out of decision-making. I think that’s completely backward.
The truth is that this Labour Government is driven by centralisation, whether it’s in education, the health system, or Three Waters. They aren’t happy unless it’s centralised and under their control. That’s the difference.
I strongly believe in working with local communities. That’s why I’ll keep listening and keep up the fight against Three Waters.
Labour may not be listening, but I am, and your support makes all the difference. National and I will keep fighting for our communities and for real solutions.