This week water policy moved back into the middle of public debates. At least it tried to. However, the National Party did its best to grab the public policy platform; but that was about “own goals”. While the media were focused on who had the biggest “Boag-ey”, the Government made a significant announcement which could mean that we may never have untreated water again. Our Council is a pawn in a game. We need to support them to resist this.
Let’s go back a couple of years. Remember Hawkes Bay. A badly disciplined exercise of monitoring the water supply by the local Council brought all of the Government Departments onto the site. This led to extensive lobbying by many. I will leave it there as last time I expressed an opinion I ended up with a defamation case…
This Government picked this up and is now proposing that the responsibility for our water will be taken off us. It is proposed that a new agency will be established to supply water for all of the South Island North of the Waitaki River to Cook Strait. This means those chemical companies who lobby for chlorine will get their way and our marvellous clear water will be but a memory.
The Government splashed some cash as an incentive around, for those who comply, this week. Is this what we want as a City? Here’s the article in Newsroom about the reforms: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/cash-splashed-for-water-reforms
The media would have been bombarded by PR hacks promoting their wares, for whoever was paying them. Here is yet another excellent example of journalists, this time RNZ, being manipulated by a lobby group. Look who set the story off… Water NZ.
These sentences say it all:
A data scientist at the sector group (WaterNZ), Lesley Smith, said leaky pipes are a nationwide problem.
“There’s more than one network in New Zealand where more than 50 percent of water going into the pipes isn’t coming out the other end.
“It tends to be our smaller councils that have bigger problems with water loss and I guess that partly reflects the funding constraints that are faced by those communities,” Smith said.
This means that the small Councils, which have inadequate rate bases, are the reasons why Christchurch is being swept up by a reform; which is unnecessary in this City. Yes, we have a loss of water. Yes, it’s been worse since the earthquakes, but making us pay for small council systems to be upgraded?
In this article the Minister of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta, said:
the Government wants to incentivise councils to opt into a new organisation of three waters assets that will be better able to borrow for the kind of upgrades and service they’ll need.
“So that scale can be created for a small number of multi-regional providers who will have a balance sheet to pretty much debt finance a substantial part of the costs coming down the pipeline.
“To try and do that council by council is a very difficult task because the balance sheets can’t handle that.
“Aggregating their balance sheets and changing the way that they’re providing services in this area will help them substantially.”
The answer to this is change the rules which constrain Council’s borrowing capacity. Not create another body which will take the control of water further away from those who are using it. In Christchurch there would be better ways of achieving what the Government wants whilst retaining local control.
Here’s the article about the proposed changes: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/water-money-control
In the near future we will have a session at the Tuesday Club on Water. I fear that this Government has forgotten that the last reform of this type was the Energy Reforms. Remember the Max Bradford reforms? These did not lead to cheaper power but led to widespread privatisation and power poverty. With a change of Government there will be little stopping a future Government privatising our water. The strength of the present system is it is difficult to privatise. There’re too many players.
I wonder if we are seeing the tattered remains of neo-liberal economics being applied to an issue which could be solved by Councils being assisted by Central Government, through maybe a bond, to upgrade the water systems throughout this country?
Before we finish, this week Marion Hobbs was removed as Chair of Otago Regional Council by a coup led by Michael Laws (remember him…). It seems that the issue was over water and Marion’s leading the honing in on farmers not complying with water issues. A farmer has now been placed as the Chair of Otago Regional Council.
I’d encourage you to watch the wonderful interview with Marion at the bottom of this article. Marion’s as irrepressible as ever but her comments are quite sobering. She wasn’t angry. She was just making sensible observations https://crux.org.nz/community/michael-laws-orc-battle-ends-in-chaos-but-hobbs-ousted/