Over the past few weeks, I have participated with many councils as they deliberated over how to handle the Minister of Local Government’s intransigence. The Minister had initially announced that she was leading a government consultative process with local government over proposed 3 waters reforms.
I thought I would consider what “consultation” means.
In my experience through a consultative process, properly managed, a lot could change. The process must be open, and all sides must have input. Those who are leading the consultation must be open to information and ideas which they might have not considered when they commenced the exercise. At the end of a proper consultative process all sides will have moved and something quite different could be the final product of what is often a very challenging exercise for all.
I consulted aunty Google and here is what she sent me a definition of consultation:
They want to change something, achieve something, attain something, or become something, and they need help.
The current state of things isn’t how they want it to be. They know what their desired state is, but they need your advice to get there.
Here’s what a consultative process should be about. If we consider the 3 Waters debate there has been massive, and not before time, change in Local Government (LG) toward the 3 Waters infrastructure. Government proposals have scared the hell out of LG. The Government provided its analysis of where things are at (much of it generalised and supported by incorrect numbers) and LG was invited to give advice on where things are right now and what should be done to remedy flaws in the system.
Here’s a diagrammatical illustration of a consultative exercise:
So, when we reflect on the proposed 3 Waters reforms Minister Mahuta had been setting the scene for years, behind the scenes, working closely with Water NZ and Infrastructure NZ and DIA. Crown then locked LGNZ into an agreement which turned them into eunuchs.
Then LG thought they were being consulted. More fool them. The Minister has increasingly demonstrated that she isn’t remotely interested in listening. It’s literally the litany of the deaf. Minister Mahuta isn’t listening. She is demonstrating the same dumb politics as the Labour government demonstrated with the Foreshore and Seabed Act. In that case the government refused to budge, and Māori voters just walked. And formed a new Māori Party.
The 3 Waters Proposed restructure is an outstanding example of how all power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The sort of arrogance and superiority demonstrated by the government toward the 3 Waters restructuring will not go unrewarded. The National Party (or ACT) will reap it.
This time there has not been the widespread anger there was with the Foreshore and Seabed Act because most residents in towns and cities in New Zealand haven’t got their heads around these proposals. Too few local body politicians have gone onto the streets and explained the ramifications of this worst piece of proposed legislation I have ever seen relating to local government.
I have been watching Minister Mahuta in parliament being asked patsy questions by Labour back benchers. She continues to restate her generalisations about the dreadful state of local government’s handling of water systems, which might be the case in some places. But not all. The worst cases provide the complete base for her arguments. Telling her that this isn’t the situation everywhere is completely ignored by her.
Here is what RNZ reported during the week about Minister Mahuta’s comments in the House:
In Parliament, Mahuta was asked by National to rule out making council participation compulsory – which she refused to do:
“I’ll rule in the fact that the case for change is compelling and well understood.
“We’ve moved well … past the starting point of not understanding the complexity and the scale of the challenge, to, actually, now the sector understanding that there is a significant challenge with huge costs looming on councils that we need to find a different way.
“The status quo will not work,” she told Parliament. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/452517/mahuta-won-t-rule-out-forcing-councils-into-three-waters-reforms.
I know media don’t always get things right. However, let us consider several statements which have been recorded as having been made by Minister Mahuta in the past week or so.
Mahuta said she’d signalled to councils “prior to the eight-week consultation and throughout … that governance arrangements are an area that we can continue to work on within the context of the reform”.
“The real criticism that councils have made is that they lose direct control of water infrastructure within their own area, and that is true.
“However, they claim that they are assets but these water infrastructure networks have been underfunded for a long period of time,” she said.
“It’s a difficult decision for councils. Many of them think, for example, that they’ll be losing the connection to their assets. They will not. So there is some misinformation amongst councils around really not understanding the significance of the issue that they’re confronted with, but also the detail of the information and the modelling that we’ve commissioned around the benefits of reform.”
The first quote is partially correct. Council’s will lose control of their assets, which we have all paid for. However, water infrastructure networks have not been underfunded everywhere. In some places, yes. But not everywhere.
With the second quote let us consider Christchurch. Our infrastructure will be absorbed by the new agency alongside 19 other authorities. The Council will stand alongside all the South Island Territorial Local Authorities (TLA’s) and chose an appointment panel. Christchurch would expect at least one person on this panel. The appointment panel chosen will then chose a Board. These Board members will have no accountability to individual TLA’s. Their responsibility will be to appoint a CEO who will appoint their staff.
Then the staff at the new authority will decide what is the most important. Fixing infrastructure in Dunedin, Hokitika, Christchurch, Rangiora, or Invercargill. We have a chance to work with other TLA’s to co-create, with Ngai Tahu, structures which retain ownership of assets where they were paid for and work collaboratively to manage water systems regionally.
Well done Christchurch City Council elected members and staff:
Congratulations to both the elected council members and staff for firstly having an excellent report prepared on the proposed 3 Waters Reforms and the debate on this report. It was excellent and encouraging.
The CCC CEO sent this release out after the Council meeting:
Today Christchurch City Council rejected the Government’s model for three waters reform, saying the case does not stack up for Christchurch.
The Council will write to the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta with its feedback and will also ask for a pause in the three waters reform process, in doing so endorsing a similar call from the Canterbury Mayoral Forum.
We have published a Newsline story about the Council’s decision here, which also links to the full feedback document.
Christchurch City Council has worked constructively with the Government in progressing the reform programme, in line with the Memorandum of Understanding we signed last year. This gave us access to stimulus funding for three waters services and, in return, we have worked in good faith.
We do not dispute the Government’s case for change, particularly around investment and regulation of three waters services. However, we believe there are better ways of resolving the challenges that led to the Three Waters Review than the Government’s preferred entities approach.
An online survey completed by more than 5000 residents showed strong support for keeping the management and operations of three waters local, and our drinking water safe and chlorine-free.
Accordingly, based on the present information from the Government and the early public feedback we have received, we have highlighting that we would recommend opting out of the suggested delivery model in any future public consultation.
However, we will still honour our obligations to consult with our community prior to any decision that proposes transferring ownership of our three waters infrastructure.
The feedback we will send to the Government also highlights an unacceptable risk with continuing to include stormwater in the reform programme. Councils need confidence the Government has a solid grasp of stormwater service delivery and the place of urban waterways.
We will continue to work closely and cooperatively with the Government on three waters reform and I will keep you informed as we do so.
We will also be keeping our website up to date as we receive further information from the Government going forward.
Ngā mihi, Dawn
Here’s how Stuff wrote up the CCC debate. I really liked Pauline Cotter’s line in Stuff where she said
Cr Pauline Cotter asked why the Government would want to create “a distanced, bloated entity with a clunky costly governance structure” when the council already had a world-class team managing the city’s three waters.
Pauline had been asked by the Star the previous week whether the Labour Party would be putting pressure on behind the scenes on Labour Party councillors (it has) and she replied:
“if the Labour Party want to kick me out, so be it” https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/126502037/govt-could-have-a-revolution-on-its-hands-if-it-pursues-proposed-water-reforms.
Where do our local Labour MP’s sit?
The Labour Party MPs were elected in this City because of the Party’s actions over the Covid crisis. Do the local Labour MP’s seriously think that CCC was completely incorrect in its analysis of the proposed reforms? Is their loyalty to the Labour Party more important than to this City and its assets being stolen from us all?
If you think Christchurch is on its own read this RNZ report on 3 Waters and the reaction to it around New Zealand: https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/452446/asset-grab-entrenched-local-opposition-to-three-waters-plan.
Naive comments by the Mayor of Nelson:
The Nelson mayor was part of the negotiating team for LGNZ and has had to go along with what she negotiated. Here is what she is reported as saying in Newsroom:
There are pockets of support, including Nelson mayor Rachel Reese, who thinks it’ll be better for ratepayers in the long run.
The reform model needed strong protections against privatisation but the reforms had probably been 20 years in the making and were needed for efficient, reliable, affordable water infrastructure, she said.
“The challenge with cost increases and climate change isn’t going to go away,” said Reese. “I think if the government was decided decide to put this on the too hard basket, it will be a lost opportunity.”
“Our city, we are pretty well off actually when it comes to drinking water, we’ve got a really good treatment plant, we’ve got a reliable water source with our dam, but we’ve also got some quite old underground infrastructure.
“Over the next, you know … 20 to 30 years there are some very very big costs coming for Nelsonians and when I see a proposal that would reduce the costs to the residents in our city, that will give them a more reliable supply, that would actually be able to pick up the opportunities around three waters innovation that we can’t afford as a council, then that’s a proposal that I have to give very serious consideration to.”
The part of the above copy from Newsroom which is underlined is a shocking example of people believing that money grows on trees. What this mayor is saying is that somebody else is picking up the tab for Nelson because Nelson has not invested properly over the past years in its infrastructure. That comment makes as much sense as the case proposed by the Government.
John Palmer, former chair of Air New Zealand made a submission to the Tasman District Council:
Here is what he stated:
The purpose of the new water service entities was to “provide safe, reliable and efficient water services”, Palmer said, quoting the Government’s own information.
“That’s not complex … but because we’ve had a report from an external consultant with one view about how you do things, we’ve got one answer,” he said referring to a report on the economic analysis of water services aggregation by the Water Industry Commission for Scotland.
“It may be a reasonable answer, we may have got a very similar answer but perhaps a slightly more efficient answer if we’d gone to Shanghai rather than going to Scotland because this is very much a Chinese way of doing things,” Palmer said. “Put the State in charge and if you have to ride roughshod over communities to get the answer then so be it.
“That is not the New Zealand way and must not be the New Zealand way.” https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/126530074/three-waters-reform-process-not-the-new-zealand-way.
Nicky Snoyink from Forest and Bird:
During the week RNZ interviewed Nicky Snoyink who was giving a Forest and Bird response to the 3 Waters Reform. This response was approaching the issue of clean waters in our rivers and safe drinking water perspective.
There is no debate in Local Government about the importance of these issues. There is total commitment to this. My only criticism of Nicky’s comments were that she then saw the centralisation of 3 waters as being the answer. There she was completely wrong.