Duncan Webb this week replied to one of the Tuesday Club attendees and below are his comments and between each of the comments there are responses on whether he is correct, or not. His comments are in blue. The responses in red.
Before I start I must, again, question where our local Labour MP’s loyalty lie. Is the Party of greater importance than their advocacy of strong local opinions. One loyal Labour Party member text me yesterday stating “the assets will be publicly owned, but not owned by the public”. That summarises it in one sentence.
Here Duncan’s letter to a constituent:
I appreciate that there are some concerns being voiced about this issue. First and foremost, I think we all agree that every New Zealander is entitled to clean drinking water, and effective waste and storm water services. The government has made some real progress on these issues so far – especially on cleaning up our rivers, however across the country there are issues with the delivery of water services.
There is no debate about the need for high water standards. However, the responses from the ratepayers in Christchurch and Waimakariri on line surveys were very clear. The ratepayers, who paid for these assets, want them to be locally owned and managed. Not 21 council’s assets in the South Island being bundled into one company with “directors” appointed far away from accountability. The government is not listening to genuine concerns.
Opposition was not due to a reluctance to act but an analysis of the argument and identification of serious flaws, generalisations, and assumptions
The spotlight on the Havelock North debacle has provided a big wake up call and councils throughout New Zealand have increased their budgets for 3 waters considerably in their LTPs.
This whole debate has been driven by generalities by the government. In this case I would ask where precisely has the government made “real progress” on cleaning up rivers? Or is this another generalisation?
The task before us now is a long term one. How can we best ensure that good clean and healthy drinking water is provided to all New Zealanders, that we all have good wastewater and sanitation, and that we manage storm water in a responsible way which minimises flooding and protects the natural environment. This is about all New Zealanders, not just city dwellers, or farmers, or Cantabrians, or any subset.
Agreed however, this statement is setting up the straw person to substantiate the reforms. It pushes aside the fact that local government is in the best position to address the issues, not a distanced Entity with zero institutional knowledge.
However, again the conflation of freshwater reform and 3 waters. Also, most NZ’ers do have safe clean drinking water. Plus, some, if not all, of the permanent boil water notices are regulatory notices put on water systems that don’t treat their water. They are not necessarily statements that infectious agents have been detected or that the supply is otherwise compromised. Sure, they should be upgraded but they are not full of E. coli either.
Last week we wrote that the government will be taking over all of the river banks and swales in this City, including the Red Zone. Your local river banks will be under the control of central government. That’s the reality in Christchurch.
The new drinking water standards are one example of this, and the fact is that these place a higher burden on providers. This will increase costs significantly.
Let’s see. NZ’ers should be extremely suspicious of a body which will be controlled by central government and subject to lobbying by Water NZ (which has chemical companies in its membership). How will NZ’ers be able to be comfortable about the quality decisions which will come from this future body. Remember how the Ministry of Health cocked up the last establishment and monitoring of water standards.
The best way to achieve a good outcome is not to put this partially thought-out and unresponsive model on top of everything. The paragraph is just part of a speech reproduced by a PR department. No substance or specifics. An example of say something often enough and it becomes a fact.
The Government could put its thinking cap on to investigate more sensible options to fund local government. Until they /we do this central government are simply kicking the can down the road.
I know that Christchurch has done a really good job of working on its water infrastructure to date, however there is a long way to go. Given the new standards across the board these costs will be significant and incurred over the long term. I have taken the time to read a lot of the vast amount of information available on this issue – including the dissenting views.
This patronising statement demonstrates that Duncan Webb has either been supplied with a standard response letter from Labour’s PR team which he has not questioned, or he has not read the CCC’s submission (which as a local MP he should) to the reforms. This statement is, again, another generalisation. Duncan, have you seen the new water standards? Has local government been informed of these standards and had a chance to cost them out? If so, what are their estimates of cost? If not, how did Duncan arrive at this conclusion?
It’s hard to imagine what standards will be required that will be frighteningly and unaffordably higher than what Christchurch is achieving currently…
I’ll make a few comments on the headline issues.
Ownership of the assets is often seen as a critical factor. It is true that the model sees ownership shifting from one public entity to another – the same thing happened with ports and other assets in the last large local government reform. Holding water assets is not income generating – quite the opposite. The holding of the assets and delivering the services is an expensive business. While local bodies own water assets this is only so that they can deliver services – they are not like a building or investment can be sold to offset rates or to invest in other assets. In this respect the shifting of the assets from one delivery entity is in many ways neutral. It has been made clear that transfer payments will be made to ensure the borrowing abilities and financial strength of councils are maintained.
The government intends to run rough shod over S 130 and S 136 of the Local Government Act.
Under S 130 of the Local Government Act it states under Section 3
(3) In order to fulfil the obligations under this subpart, a local government organisation must—
(a) not use assets of its water services as security for any purpose:
(b) not divest its ownership or other interest in a water service except to another local government organisation:
(c) not lose control of, sell, or otherwise dispose of, the significant infrastructure necessary for providing water services in its region or district, unless, in doing so, it retains its capacity to meet its obligations:
(d) not, in relation to a property to which it supplies water,—
(i) restrict the water supply unless section 193 applies; or
(ii) stop the water supply unless section 69S of the Health Act 1956 applies.
(4) This section—
(a) does not prevent a local government organisation from transferring a water service to another local government organisation; and
Under S 136 (2) of the Local Government Act states:
If a local government organisation enters into a contract under subsection (1), it must—
(a) continue to be legally responsible for providing the water services; and
(b) retain control over the following matters:
(i) the pricing of water services; and
(ii) the development of policy related to the delivery of water services.
The Labour government intends removing all the protection of local water assets protected in the Local Government Act 2002.
The assets are used on the balance sheets to leverage borrowings…. But the assets are not compartmentalised nor is the lending attached to specific assets, so the loss of such a huge asset worth will have a massive negative effect on Councils financial viability. Some lending is taken outside of the LGFA and the Govt has not yet determined how they will/can deal with this.
We must remind Duncan, as a former Professor of Law, that removing an asset from one institution, i.e., local government, to another new entity controlled by central government, is a strange interpretation of “shifting from one public entity to another”. Again, this paragraph is another example of patronising generalisations. Ports were shifted to trading entities because they were publicly owned trading businesses. (a reminder to Duncan, CCC still owns the Port) Does this imply that water will eventually become a trading entity? Statements like “Holding water assets is not income generating – quite the opposite”. It’s about local infrastructure serving local communities, owned, and controlled by them.
It’s a pity the Minister doesn’t have the same grasp on the inability of 3waters assets to be sold off given her statements that the entities could borrow against them.
The arrogance of stating that the shifting of these assets out of local government control as neutral is again a demonstration of “we know better what is good for you, just don’t question us”. Again, Duncan has obviously not read the CCC submission on the 3 Waters proposal.
It’s not about ownership it’s about control. If councils lose ownership of the three waters assets, they lose control of them. Loss of control means loss of district planning tools, loss of protection of rate payers and loss of the ability to be ambitious in environmental outcomes. Loss of control of our river banks and waterways.
Community input is important. While there are some things which are bottom lines – such as the drinking water standards, other things such as allocation and delivery and cost may have important community aspects. The new entities will have strict requirements to seek the views of communities and report on how they are taken into account. This is arguably greater than under the current model – although the council is democratically elected there is no direct accountability in respect of water services in particular. This is one aspect of the proposal that is very much under discussion and the best way in which to include community voices and hold the provider accountable is still being developed.
This has been either written for Duncan, or he has no idea of how councils arrive at decisions on infrastructure. Councils invite community input every year for the AP and LTPs, plus nearly every major project is consulted on. It seems like they are creating a mirror version of a council. The best organisation to run consultations are local councils, locally
It will be hard to ascertain how direct accountability will be achieved through the proposed governance structure. The Water Services Bill achieves greater accountability, but it is independent of the delivery model. All too often the arguments between the Water Services Bill and the Water Services Entity Bill (when it finally arrives) are getting conflated.
Any person who has been on a Board would be able to inform Duncan that when you are appointed there is seldom any level of intensive accountability, which is the case of water responsibility at local government level.
I should also mentioned the need to include Maori in governance of water as mana whenua. You will be aware that the Treaty ensured continued sovereignty and ownership of lands forests fisheries and other prized things. This includes water assets over which Maori had traditional / customary title. In many cases Maori never ceded their rights over water, and they were never bought, or taken under law (the latter of which would have been a treaty breach anyway). So quite apart from the entitlement of co-governance as Treaty Partners, Maori have a tenable claim to participate in the management of water services on the basis of property rights that were never alienated. On a more practical level, Maori have an important stake and unique point of view around the importance of water. Including them in governance will lead to better outcomes for all New Zealanders – something that we are all working towards.
The Te reo Māori version of second article of the treaty is quite small and relatively easy to read. It says that the chiefs of the confederation and others have tino rangatiratanga over their whenua, kainga and toanga katoa. But that such possession is lost if the land is sold.
Given that it is unlikely that rivers or the sea were ever sold it is reasonable from article 2 that Māori never signed them over and instead signed a treaty guaranteeing their ownership.
The English version is even more specific
“..the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of the Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession.”
So yes, it is clear ownership of the whenua as kainga are protected. It’s also legitimate to say that Māori and Europeans had different cultural understanding of significant words and in effect they signed two similar but different treaties. But Duncan’s statement that “Māori have a tenable claim to participate in the management of water services on the basis of property rights that were never alienated” needs to be clarified. Do these rights relate to the awa and the moana? Therefore, the governorship would relate to activities in rivers, lakes, and the sea. Extension of governorship to the reticulation systems except for where they interact with the environment seems quite a stretch. If that is the government’s intention, then I think it could be challenged in court
There are many ways to include Mana whenua such as the CCC partnership committee, which works well and has produced some good outcomes for some Rununga. However, no matter how much borrowing an Entity can achieve the projects will still need to be prioritised, which means that Mana Whenua may not always, or ever, get exactly what they want and when. This level of expectation is concerning.
Of course, most importantly, this will be a more effective way to deliver water services more equitably, more efficiently, and more effectively. I know we expect clean water wherever we go in New Zealand – not just at home, and this is one of the objectives. The larger entities will have a scale which will enable smaller centres to benefit from greater expertise, better long term asset planning, more effective procurement and much more. This will lead to savings across the board – but especially for smaller providers.
Only for smaller providers.
Christchurch consumer’s assets will be stolen and will be subsidising Buller consumers and rewarding a history of underinvestment in infrastructure to return low rates rises. The same is true for Dunedin and Clutha District. The councils that are pushing for this change have almost all had a history of trading off rates increases against appropriate infrastructure investment and will now be rewarded for their bad behaviour. I read the Newsroom article on the 7 Samurai mayors. An example is the mayor of Porirura (50k people) who said that they face $800 million over 30 years. Dunedin at 150k people faces $2.5 billion over the same period. It’s the same burden! She says her ratepayers can’t face 7.5% rates increase. You can’t live in denial about the cost of 3 waters delivery. But these denialists are the ones the government keeps referring to.
Yes, the larger entities will have scale. They will also be huge and sclerotic. It is the balance of the two that determines the outcome. History has shown that the inefficiencies, massive overheads, and unresponsiveness of the large entities completely consume any savings and they very quickly become more expensive.
The enhanced effectiveness and efficiencies of this proposal are unproven, and the forecast savings are ‘heroic’ and disputed. There are other ways to share knowledge and expertise, and to benefit from, e.g., a national procurement agency etc.
It is important to be clear. While all New Zealanders will benefit from effective delivery of water services those most in need of help are provincial and rural New Zealanders who do not have the benefit of hundreds of thousands of ratepayers and large local bodies with a high degree of expertise. This is an effective way to make sure that the benefits of scale that a large entity has can be shared with all New Zealanders. The reaction of some councillors in responding that their precious water services all theirs and are not to be shared is understandable. However, it is short sighted and fails to understand that there are gains for everyone to be achieved by cooperation.
Stop talking down to us Duncan. The use of the term “precious” is arrogant. We’ve accused you of this before. You still aren’t listening. As a local MP you are admitting that Christchurch’s assets are being given away to assist small councils. If this is the problem then central government has a responsibility to address this inequity. Not forcibly stealing our local carefully managed assets.
The amount of money the govt has thrown at this poorly constructed proposal in such a franticly rushed manor could have gone a long way to addressing the issues in some of the smaller rural councils.( And as above… expertise sharing and procurement model)
While some councils have suggested that they should be left to form regional entities of their own, the fact is that this would simply result in cherry-picking whereby councils that most needed to be part of a larger entity would be left out, or grouped together. That is why the only way to form the entities is by an independent analysis of what size and shaped entities would work best.
Duncan you’re still talking down to us! That would not happen largely because we know the alternative to a failure to achieve a good outcome would be the 4 entities.
TOP DOWN AGAIN
Of course, each entity will have multiple catchments to manage and there is no suggestion that the entities would take a “one size fits all” approach. There will also be continuity with the new entities absorbing existing water management from local bodies including employees with all of their knowledge and connections.
Where is the precedence that this has happened in the past? Remember everything implied to date is that councils are useless. How would that lead us to believe that the new entity management would respect the views of local body employees.
Councils are being stripped of their good staff, who work not only in 3 waters but across many areas that interweave such as parks, roading etc.
I acknowledge this is a very significant change in the way an important service is delivered. Local bodies are critically important in strengthening communities and providing critical services, but in this instance some local bodies are failing and New Zealanders are getting sick and sometimes dying as a result. To say that that is not Christchurch’s problem would be a dereliction of our duty to look after all New Zealanders. As it happens the proposals will benefit everyone, including Christchurch.
Again, massive generalisations. Statements like: New Zealanders are getting sick and sometimes dying as a result. This happened once. That was a one off and the fault equally lay with the Govt agency MOH who were derelict in their duty. If you genuinely believe that then raise taxes on the higher incomes and redistribute wealth in New Zealand. Or will you remain a neo-liberal, and rail against raising taxes? The dereliction of duty sits with the government and its continuing belief in user pays. The Water Services Bill takes regulations to a place they need to go. But the service entities will not benefit Christchurch or any council (Dunedin, Invercargill, Timaru, Grey, Westland etc) who have been properly investing in their three waters.
I hope that gives you a sense of how important this is. However, I know discussions are ongoing and there is more work to be done. Any reform like this undergoes much development and improvement and I am sure that this will continue to occur.
Local government is very aware of how important this is. What they are concerned about is that our current MPs are not. Your reply continues our concerns.