Who is on the Advisory Panel, and what they are advising on (or not!)
To say I am disappointed in the makeup of the people appointed by the Minister of Internal Affairs to the advisory panel to review the governance of the proposed 3 Waters structure is an understatement.
Here’s who’s on it:
Mayor Phil Goff, Auckland, Mayor Dr Jason Smith, Kaipara, Mayor Garry Webber, Western Bay of Plenty, Mayor Neil Holdom, New Plymouth, Mayor Campbell Barry, Lower Hutt, Mayor Rachel Reese, Nelson, Mayor Lianne Dalziel, Christchurch, Mayor Tim Cadogan, Central Otago, and Mayor Lyn Patterson, Masterton.
* Iwi/Māori representatives: Ngarimu Blair, Jamie Tuuta, Karen Vercoe, Ngahiwi Tomoana, Olivia Hall, Gabrielle Huria, Barry Bragg, and John Bishara. (One further representative for Entity A to be confirmed).
Only choosing Mayors is one thing but only having one who has spoken out vigorously against the reforms, The Mayor of Kaipara Jason Smith, makes this a cynical exercise in window dressing. Some of those appointed have been the biggest public advocates for the reforms. The appointment of Phil Goff and Lianne Dalziel feels like a transparent calling in of the Labour flock. They have both spoken out against the reforms but not as passionately as many.
Both the Mayor of Auckland and Christchurch were in a Labour cabinet together. They are the mayors of the biggest and the second biggest councils in the country. They have strayed away from the Labour fold to date on the 3 Waters debate. Now they are being called home. To the Labour Party. Their party loyalty is being tested. Will both give in to the Minister’s demands? After the behind closed-door deliberations will they announce that they have achieved “significant changes” and that they now support what the Minister is proposing? I hope I’m wrong.
During the week I was informed from within the public services in Wellington and Auckland that Phil Goff is delighted to have been appointed. He supports the model provided it reinforces Auckland Watercare. I guess he wants to take over the Far North. The COO from Watercare has been seconded to the Department of Internal Affairs to assist the 3 Water programme for the last 6 months. Phil has an agenda and is NOT independent, as required by the TOR established by the Government.
This “advisory panel” is a demonstration of what feels like the hierarchical thinking that is often at play in national politics. However, councils don’t work this way. The mayor is first amongst equals. None of these mayors can go back to their councils and advocate for whatever this carefully selected group comes up with. All a mayor has is the power of moral persuasion. A mayor cannot command a majority at the council table. They earn it.
Unfortunately, this Minister only intends the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. She is committed to the present reforms; she remains committed to next to no accountability to local ratepayers. She has demonstrated that she will not bend to pressure. Standard and Poors won’t let her.
After extensive work 67 Councils gave in depth feedback on this proposal, 60 of them asked significant questions and suggested changes. The only response from on high is – you might not like this, but we are going to do it anyway. Most of these councils are not anti the Labour government, many are allies. All of them want to get around the table and work on a solution that keeps localism alive and delivers safe water.
Here is a link to the Terms of Reference terms-of-reference-working-group-on-representation-governance-and-accountability-of-water-services-entities-november-2021.pdf
I read these over the weekend. Most of them are the creation of a strait jacket tying down those who have agreed to be on the panel. Below I have copied some parts which concerned me. Have a read of them all in the above link and form your own opinion:
In the TOR it states that the appointees are not there as representatives of their councils. To start with it states:
2 Objective: This Terms of Reference relates to the establishment of a working group to:
2.1 consider issues relating to REPRESENTATION, GOVERNANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY of the 4 proposed new Water Services Entities (each a WSE); and
This means that any consideration of any alternative models is outside of the brief.
6 Heads of Agreement: The Government Ministers and LGNZ entered into the Heads of Agreement to set out their respective partnering commitments to support achieving their shared objectives for three waters service delivery reform.
7 The Heads of Agreement came about as a result of the successful collaborative engagement undertaken between DIA and representatives of the local government sector since May 2020, during which time the Joint Three Waters Steering Committee has provided input and helped influence the development of the Government’s three waters reform proposals.
This highlights the fact that having tied LGNZ into a Heads of Agreement central government proceeded to force its own agenda. LGNZ behaved like a loyal puppy at dog training classes. What this document does not mention is the role of WaterNZ and InfrastructureNZ. These parties were lobbying government agencies years before the bodies who own and operate infrastructure in this country, local government, were even involved.
Matters to be considered in developing a Strengthened Approach
15 It is acknowledged that the governance framework is part of a broader package of measures to implement the three waters reform programme, and the role of the Working Group is to focus on the governance framework within this broader system. The broader system (which is outside of the governance framework and not part of the review of the Working Group) will include matters such as:
15.1 system stewardship arrangements and the role of central government, including in providing strategic direction through Government Policy Statements or through a Crown intervention framework;
15.2 the role of local authorities in strategic planning decisions including through existing and proposed planning and regulatory mechanisms relating to land-use planning;
15.3 the development of a new economic regulation regime and consumer protection mechanisms relating to the new three waters service delivery system.
Again, this reinforces that the members of the panel, or local government, have no say on strategic direction or land use planning regarding 3 Waters. This will be a business model controlled by a central government appointed and controlled board.
17.2 Good Governance – that the board directly governing a WSE:
a) Has a clear role and responsibilities
b) is comprised of appropriately qualified and experienced members who are free of conflict of interest and selected through a process that is meritocratic and competency based.
This locks into place the demands of Standard and Poors. Those appointed will be straight from the Institute of Directors. They seek high pay. Right now, if our mayor and councillors make mistakes with our water system, we have the power to not re-elect them at the next election. That will not be possible under this system. Also, nowhere in the document is a definition of “conflict of interest” or what “meritocracy and competency” means.
17.4 Balance sheet separation
– that the WSE governance framework, when taken together with the broader measures to implement the three waters reform programme (refer clause 15 above), will provide the WSE with the financial capacity (including through the ability to borrow) to meet the future three waters service delivery investment needs (including any existing infrastructure deficit) of the region it serves without:
(a) resulting in the debt of the WSE consolidating on the balance sheets of the relevant local authorities; or
(b) requiring additional financial support from the Crown (beyond what the Crown has already agreed to provide; that being a liquidity facility on similar terms to those available to the Local Government Funding Agency, and the 60/40 risk-sharing arrangement in the event of a natural disaster) or local authorities.
This section establishes that having stolen these assets from local government the crown will not be allocating any funding into the new WSE’s. This is the classic corporatisation model as established by Roger Douglas and his henchmen in the 1980’s. In many of these cases the next step was privatization. This government genuinely does not want privatization. However, to achieve what they want, they have rewritten legislation put in place by the then Labour government in the 2002 Local Government Act. Just as they have ridden rough-shod over existing legislation another government in the future could carry on in a similar manner to them and privatize water as doing that to 4 bodies would be much easier than to the current 60+.
24 Role and responsibilities are then identified for the working party and then the next section states:
25 These roles and responsibilities will be subject to whatever protocols the Chairperson may require to ensure orderly sequencing and flow of information and achievement of the agreed work programme.
This effectively gives the (very expensive) chair the role of directing the meetings to follow the Minister’s orders. The next bit is interesting:
26 Members will bring their unique insights and perspectives into the work, and work constructively together. It is the responsibility of all Working Group members to:
26.1 abide by any confidentiality obligations already binding on them, along with the standards of conduct outlined in Appendix 1; and
26.2 declare any perceived or real conflict of interests, as described in Appendix 1.
In the Press last week Lianne Dalziel said she was pleased to have been selected to serve on the working group.
“We have been given the opportunity to address the issues that have been raised by councils including our own, and I am looking forward to tackling these important issues of governance, representation and accountability.”
She said she was also pleased that the working group’s process will be open and transparent.
This worries me greatly. The Terms of Reference (TOR) have gagged members who are on the panel. In the TOR the issues raised by local government have been defined as only covering governance. Nothing else. It is not possible for members to be “open and transparent” to those of us who have paid for these assets which have been stolen from local government.
It is worth noting that the chair selected by the government, Doug Martin, was a treasury staff member during the corporatisation of government departments by the Labour government in the 1980’s. As those with long memories will remember that treasury drove the reforms which have created havoc in our society.
The way the 3 Waters debate is going must be worrying the government:
The Prime Minister defended the 3 Water legislation at the Labour Party conference:
In the media it was reported:
The Prime Minister also offered a staunch defence of the Government’s polarising Three Waters reforms, saying the status quo would lead to “ballooning costs for ratepayers, decreased water quality, and unsustainable sewage discharge”.
“To those who want to cancel Three Waters, to them I say this – the problem is clear, the status quo is not an option.
“If your concern is losing public ownership, then commit to retain these assets in public ownership, as we have, and support the legislation to lock that in. But don’t pretend there isn’t a problem.”
The strange thing is that most of local government would agree with the PM. There is no doubt that there will be ballooning costs regardless of which model prevails in the long run. Everybody is absolutely committed to a high level of water quality. And sewage discharge is a fact of life, making this at as low a level as is possible is the desirable long-term goal.
What we are concerned about, Prime Minister, is having our local assets stolen and an unworkable and undemocratic governance structure imposed on us. Regional solutions are possible. The assets must be retained locally and stay on our local council’s balance sheets.
Nobody is pretending there isn’t a problem. The issue is that the government’s numbers are wrong as is the solution. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.