I was reading a book last night by my friend Vivian Hutchinson. It’s about active citizenship and its essence. The Tuesday Club is an example of us all being active in our community.
Vivian wrote that active citizenship is woken up when we start by answering three questions. They are:
- Where is your place?
- What is your story?
- What is your contribution to the common good?
These are fundamental questions and quite helpful as we try to find an appropriate solution to the debate which is raging over water in New Zealand.
You will recall that Te Maire Tau spoke to the Tuesday Club some months ago about Ngai Tahu’s High Court case over rivers, which I totally support
In Saturday’s Press there was an article by Te Maire headed “An opportunity to share our strengths”. A link to it is below and it has some good themes running through it. I intend analysing some of it here.
The first paragraph states:
When you get past the noise on all sides around the Government’s proposed reform of Three Waters services (drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater) the issues are simple. How do we ensure equitable, affordable, high-quality water services for everyone, while protecting human health and community assets?
Those in Local Government (LG) totally agree with this sentiment. In fact, there is no dispute that a new water standards authority is essential. On that matter there is no disagreement.
The next paragraph states:
Ngāi Tahu don’t make any of the decisions about which model gets adopted or what path we go down. As tangata whenua of Te Waipounamu, however, we feel a responsibility to make whatever path is chosen work for all the people and communities within our takiwā (area).
This demonstrates an acceptance that Ngai Tahu will work with whatever is negotiated as a future structure. LG has no problem with Mana Whenua role in the 3 Waters. However, currently LG has overwhelmingly stated that the government’s proposed structures are wrong. They are undemocratic and the decision makers will be isolated from the very communities which Te Maire later in the article quite correctly points out are currently missing out.
Over the past few weeks Rosemary Neave and I have slowly brought together different councillors and mayors from literally North Cape to Invercargill. There is a strong desire within that group to identify regional groupings which could assist the goal of getting clean water for all.
In Te Wai Pounamu we have several natural groupings where we could work with Ngai Tahu, and tribal affiliations at the top of the Island, to achieve the goal of pure water for all. These will be greater than a single water body, as proposed by the government.
Further down his article Te Maire wrote:
We understand the value of this infrastructure to communities. We see Ngāi Tahu partnership in a regional entity as an ironclad guarantee against potential privatisation.
Here Te Maire is wrong. Last week I wrote about the danger of potential privatisation. It is reprinted below.
The talk about privatisation is not a hollow threat. Central Government is all powerful in NZ. If it has the numbers a government can pass anything. To achieve the 4 authorities it desires, the government must remove Section 130 of the Local Government Act. This section is there to prevent the removal of water from LG and subsequent privatisation. Despite the fine words from the Minister these assets are being removed from all LG.
In 2000 Christchurch City Council was concerned that the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) was so removed from everyday affairs of LG that we seconded our CEO, Mike Richardson, to work with them for nearly a year to ensure that the Act when it finally arrived was workable. Thus, sections in the Act which protected the four well-beings and water. A later National Party government removed the four well beings. Labour has reinstated them.
The scary thing is also highlighted below. DIA accepted in the reply to Invercargill City Council when asked about future Government deciding to privatise water that the protection which the current government intends writing into the Act could be set aside by a future government, if it has the numbers.
Here’s what I wrote last week:
I am certain that this Government has no intention of allowing privatisation of water. However, to get this proposed structure through the Government will have to either remove Section 130 of the Local Government Act which is there to prevent removal of water from local government. Or the Government will have to require Local Government to consult with ratepayers. And we know what the result of this consultation will be. Just look at the Christchurch City and Waimakariri District Council’s surveys of ratepayers. Thousands surveyed. Massive majority against handing water infrastructure to Central Government vehicles.
The Invercargill City Council asked DIA the following question about privatisation:
The Prime Minister made comment at the LGNZ Conference that privatisation of 3 Waters assets would not happen under her watch. Are Council’s to infer there is a risk of privatisation under a different Prime Minister or different Government? Can the proposed provisions to protect against privatisation of assets by the new entities be removed by future legislation?
The Department of Internal Affairs replied:
It is the government’ policy that water services entities should remain publicly owned. To this end the government will include strong protections against privatisation in enabling legislation. This will include a provision that any proposal for privatisation would need to be endorsed by the Regional Representative Group (by at least a 75 per cent majority) and then put to a public referendum (that also requires at least 75 per cent of votes to be in favour of the proposal for it to proceed).
The next part of the answer was the only one an honest bureaucracy could give:
The government cannot prevent a future government from introducing legislation to Parliament to remove such protections. A future government wishing to remove the protections would have to persuade a future Parliament of the merits of doing so against the arguments that would be made not to privatise.
So, LG conversations I have been privy to have centred around having regional structures which are logical. That would mean that it would still be much more difficult to privatise water because there were too many to remove. With four it would be easy. Especially with the structures currently proposed.
However, if there is a government in the future which desires to privatise the only way to resist this move would be to have many regional structures, partnerships with LG and Mana Whenua, that are so deeply embedded into local psyche that no government would dare to touch it as they were working so well.
Te Maire concludes with:
Ngāi Tahu stand ready to share our expertise of water systems, governance and communities, to help councils ensure the future of publicly owned Three Waters services are a success for the people of Te Wai Pounamu.
This openness is fantastic. In the article he pointed out that many Ngai Tahu settlements in our island still do not have access to water systems. That is dreadful and must be remedied. This could happen if we split the Island into a series of regional structures and we all sit at the table and plan together.
Then we can truly say that we have bought into active citizenship which Vivian Hutchison challenged us with at the start of this article. Where he asked where is your place? What is your story? What is your contribution to the common good?
We could then say in Te Wai Pounamu with 3 Waters that we were addressing them all.
Here is Te Maire Tau’s article: https://www.stuff.co.nz/opinion/126548058/three-waters-reforms-are-an-opportunity-to-share-our-strengths-working-together.