Government pushes through first of its highly controversial water legislation

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Jun 02, 2022 |

The Government is pushing through Parliament its highly controversial three waters legislation, despite widespread opposition.

The Water Services Entities Bill is the first of several pieces of legislation to establish a new system for national water services.

It was introduced to Parliament today.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said “these changes will deliver clean and safe drinking water services at an affordable price for New Zealanders. By investing in such critical infrastructure now we can help secure New Zealand’s economy for future generations.”

“Everyone accepts the need for change. Without reform our water infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. Households, businesses and communities would face genuine public health risks, services that don’t meet their needs, and rising bills of up to $9,000 a year per household just for water services.”

“The Bill contains robust mechanisms to provide for iwi/Māori rights and interests in our three waters system but makes clear these rights and interests do not include ownership.”

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen

This case is far bigger than just the three waters reform as it could have serious ramifications for owners of any property.

— Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen

Councils take on Government in legal challenge

Three Local Authorities are going to the High Court over the legislation.

Timaru, Waimakariri and Whangarei District Councils are asking the High Court for declarations on the rights and interests that property ownership entails.

The councils are seeking legal clarity on these matters as their view is that under the Government’s Three Waters reform proposals, it is expropriating council-owned property without conceding that it is a “taking”, and without fair compensation being paid to communities for their property.

The Councils argue that the Government’s proposals remove local democratic accountability associated with the management of those water assets.”

Mayors Nigel Bowen, Dan Gordon and Sheryl Mai are taking the action on behalf of their communities, as they contend that these actions are incompatible with long standing and fundamental laws around property ownership and democratic accountability.

They are being represented by barrister Jack Hodder QC. The hearing dates have been set down for 7 and 8 June in the Wellington High Court.

Timaru District Mayor Nigel Bowen said that this case is far bigger than just the three waters reform as it could have serious ramifications for owners of any property.

“Property rights are absolutely fundamental in New Zealand. If you’ve bought and paid for something you should have reasonable control over it, and a legitimate expectation that it will not be expropriated without compensation. As owners on behalf of the community of this critical infrastructure we want to ensure that any future changes respect these basic rights.”

“While Three Waters reform prompted this action, what we’re talking about here concerns some really basic and fundamental rights that most people ordinarily would take for granted and normally wouldn’t be up for discussion or even be a source of contention.

“The fact the government are seeking to undermine basic property rights sets a risky precedent for New Zealand.”

“We don’t believe that concepts such as collective ownership with no control of assets and “shares” that don’t deliver any of the usual rights or obligations that go with equity ownership, are in line with existing property rights and laws.”

“If this goes unchallenged the simple line to draw is that if the Government can single-handedly redefine ownership of three waters infrastructure in this manner, than where else could it apply these concepts? Could roads or port companies be next?

“That the government is working so hard to dismiss this case and undermine these basic property rights should be a red flag and a real concern for all New Zealanders.”

National’s Local Government spokesman Simon Watts

National’s Local Government spokesman Simon Watts said “local government is in open revolt, and the public overwhelmingly opposes these reforms. Labour is unleashing hell on local government, putting their ideology before the wishes of people and outcomes.”

“The Water Services Entities Bill, tabled in Parliament today, lays out the final plans for the theft of local assets and the establishment of a complex and unaccountable bureaucracy.”

“The Government has consistently ignored alternatives proposed like establishing council controlled organisations or contracting, and have pursued their four mega-entities model.”

“Under this model communities will lose their voices, cross-subsidise their neighbours and get worse outcomes.”

“This is just the Labour Party centralising decision-making and rewarding its stakeholders at the expense of ratepayers.”

“National has opposed these reforms consistently, and if elected in 2023, we will repeal and replace this broken model.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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