Dr Muriel Newman
Dr Muriel Newman established the New Zealand Centre for Political Research as a public policy think tank in 2005 after nine years as a Member of Parliament. A former Chamber of Commerce President, her background is in business and education.
In September 2012 the Maori King Tuheitia told a meeting of over 1,000 people from throughout the country that in spite of fresh water falling from the sky as rain and snow, it was owned by Maori: “We have always owned the water!”
He said “the ultimate goal for iwi is to retain management and control of water…”
Just nine years later, the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta is planning to deliver on her cousin’s goal by passing legislation that will give iwi, including her own Tainui tribe, the right to manage and control the country’s freshwater.
Minister Mahuta’s plan will result in freshwater, stormwater and wastewater assets and infrastructure owned and controlled by the country’s 67 local authorities – and paid for by generations of ratepayers – being transferred to four new regional water agencies 50:50 co-governed by iwi. Although local authorities will provide all of the assets, they will be given only 50 per cent of the control. The other 50 per cent will be given to local iwi.
Not only will councils effectively have control of their assets cut in half, Cabinet papers reveal an extraordinary requirement: all decisions undertaken by these new agencies “will require a super majority decision of 75 per cent”. That means no decisions can be made without the approval of iwi. In effect, iwi will have a veto right and be in control of all New Zealand water services decision-making.
In light of the introduction of co-governance and veto rights, one would be naive to think that Three Waters is anything other than a transfer of water assets to Maori – and another giant leap towards the implementation of Labour’s separatist He Puapua plan for Maori sovereignty by 2040.
A December Cabinet paper issued by Minister Mahuta reveals that the argument being used to justify what is the biggest local government upheaval since the reforms of the 1980s, is the discredited claim that a “partnership” exists between Maori and the Crown: “Cabinet agreed that a high-level principle of partnership with iwi/Maori will be followed throughout the reform programme, and reflected in the new three waters service delivery system.”
Despite there being no legal basis, nor public mandate for the so-called Treaty “partnership”, it is now being extrapolated into ‘shared sovereignty’. Yet, as former Judge and Law Lecturer Anthony Willy has explained, “It was and is constitutionally impossible for the Crown to enter into a partnership with her subjects. She can as she did in 1840 make promises to them but by definition, the Crown is supreme, and the people are subject to her laws.”
It is said that the former Prime Minister David Lange expressed this more mischievously when he remarked that it was absurd to suggest that Queen Victoria was in partnership with 500 signatures and thumbprints.
So, even though there is no constitutional foundation for the ‘partnership’ claim, Jacinda Ardern’s Government is now using it to advance He Puapua as they attempt to transfer control of billions of dollars-worth of the country’s community owned and operated water infrastructure to iwi.
Unlike public entities, which are required to prioritise the national interest, iwi trading enterprises are profit generating corporations worth billions of dollars.
They have no unique community role in governing council-owned water services for the benefit of all New Zealanders, rather, the focus of iwi is on advancing their own situation.
By giving control of 50 per cent of the country’s water services’ decision-making power – along with a right of veto – to those representing just 16.7 per cent of the population who call themselves Maori, the Government is undermining the proportionality principle on which New Zealand democracy is based. Their proposed arrangement would leave the 83.3 per cent majority of non-Maori New Zealanders under-represented and discriminated against – a breach of section 19(1) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
As a representative democracy founded on the principle of equal rights, it is abhorrent that Labour is destroying that culture through the 50:50 co-governance requirement of the Three Waters proposal.
Looking through the Cabinet papers, it is clear that to achieve her objective of iwi control of water, Minister Mahuta has had to engage in creative accounting.
Although the Government will argue local councils will still “own” the water infrastructure, they will receive no compensation for transferring their multi-million-dollar assets. The tenuous nature of their “ownership” is further exposed by the fact that councils will receive no shareholding in the new water services entities, only a collective right to occupy half of the governing seats. That discretion will itself be constrained by government oversight as well as the 75 per cent majority decision-making with iwi.
In other words, claims that local authorities will remain the “owners” of their water assets is pure fiction and must surely go down as one of the largest political lies ever told in New Zealand.
Cabinet papers also reveal that in spite of holding over 60 consultation meetings with Maori about the Three Waters proposals, Minister Mahuta is going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that councils do not properly consult their communities about the scheme.
In a December Cabinet paper, the Minister described the 2002 Local Government Act requirements for public consultation when councils divest strategic assets and water services, as “statutory obstacles” that may prevent councils from achieving “a desirable outcome from a local government and central government perspective”.
As a public safeguard to protect communities from local authorities that may attempt to dispose or transfer significant ratepayer funded assets without informing them first, the Act requires any such proposal to be included in the council’s long-term plan, with a full analysis provided for a public consultation process of “not less than 1 month from the date the statement is issued”.
Minister Mahuta, however, plans to over-ride those statutory requirements and strong-arm local councils into agreeing to her proposals through a Local Government (Three Waters Reform) Amendment Bill that will no doubt be introduced under urgency to “remove or amend the detailed legislative requirements in local government legislation relating to council consultation, long-term planning, and decision making for the purposes of making a decision to participate in the government’s reforms.”
By curtailing the consultation process, Jacinda Ardern’s Government, which claims to be governing in the best interests of all New Zealanders, will ride rough-shod over local government democracy – just as they did when they abolished the right of communities to hold a binding referendum over the establishment of Maori wards.
Cabinet papers also provide more detail of the proposed governance arrangements for the new water services. There will be the four Regional Representative Groups, each with 10 to 12-members: half from local councils in proportion to their relative asset contribution and the remaining half representing iwi in the area.
Each of these Groups will appoint and monitor an Independent Selection Panel of four members, to select the 10-member board that will run that region’s water services.
According to the Minister these appointments must “ensure that the Board is adequately competent both as a Treaty partner, and with expertise in accessing matauranga Maori, tikanga Maori and Te Ao Maori knowledge to inform the water entities activities.”
In other words, in line with He Puapua, a Maori World View will underpin the future running of the country’s Three Water services.
While the Minister plans to remove the need for councils to properly consult their communities over her Three Waters proposal, she intends introducing a ‘referendum’ option to protect against the future privatisation of the new water bodies.
Yet couldn’t it be argued that Labour’s Three Waters proposals already represent a partial privatisation in light of the fact that iwi are private economic corporations that aim to secure financial advantage for ‘their people’, rather than public entities looking out for the common good?
Cabinet papers also reveal the Minister intends to punish local authorities who refuse to join her scheme through new regulations that will dramatically force up costs:
“Councils that choose not to join the new water services entities would face increased performance standards and stronger regulatory enforcement of consenting requirements…”
It is difficult to interpret this as anything other than strong-arm bully-boy tactics designed to intimidate councils and force them into submission.
Councils concerned about Three Waters cannot even turn to their own association, Local Government New Zealand, for support, since – without consulting their members – LGNZ entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to promote the scheme. In a recent email to councils, their President Stuart Crosbie explained:
“The Heads of Agreement is a partnership commitment between Central Government and LGNZ. It is consistent with the direction the sector has been asking LGNZ to lead – a closer more influential relationship with central government.”
LGNZ needs to be reminded that their role should be to represent the wishes of their members to central government. Instead, they are now in ‘partnership’ with a government that is strong-arming local authorities to join a scheme that will deliver control of their water services to Maori.
Questions are now being asked about the Government’s rationale for the scheme, including whether a freshwater supply failure in Havelock North in 2016 which had never happened before nor since, is sufficient justification for upending water services throughout the whole country.
There are also serious concerns about the untimely haste of the reforms. Why is the Government trying to rush these changes through with such urgency that councils are to be prevented from consulting their communities using the existing Statutory process, when the new scheme is not expected to be up and running until 2024?
Isn’t it the case that the motivation for the fast-tracking is to prevent the public from finding out that assets paid for by generation of ratepayers are to be given to Maori control?
This week’s Guest Commentator, the Mayor of the Westland District Council Bruce Smith, updates us on developments regarding Three Waters and outlines his plan to hold a binding referendum so his community can decide whether they want to opt in or out:
“I can’t speak for other councils but Westland will need at least 3 months upon the receipt of the information to engage experts and receive their advice on the merits and risks of the transfer of assets as proposed by government. This will then go to ratepayers for consultation and seeking of submissions.
“My view is that because of the implications of transferring over a quarter of Council’s total assets at below valuation there is only one safe road to take. I will be advocating for a binding referendum to go out to the people of Westland seeking direction on in or out. It’s called democracy.
“It’s hard to imagine how any council in New Zealand will be able to make a decision without the clear direction a referendum will bring.”
Given the Government is trying to rush these changes through without the public being properly aware of what’s at stake, we urge each NZCPR reader to do all you can to raise awareness about what’s going on.
Firstly, you can use the social media and email buttons up the top to share this information with your networks.
Secondly, we have compiled the email addresses of all local authority councillors into a new directory, which can be found on our website here: nzcpr.com/local-government-directory We would urge you to send a quick message to your local council representatives to suggest they follow the lead of the Westland District Council and commit to holding a public referendum so the community can properly decide whether to opt in or out of the Government’s scheme.
And thirdly, we are considering running a nation-wide public information campaign to highlight what’s going on. If you would like to support the campaign fundraiser, please donate.
I will leave the last word to Bruce Smith:
“What other councils do around New Zealand is up to them however a public referendum in every district would involve our residents and ratepayers who have along with their families over generations paid for these three water assets – on that basis the decision to opt in or out must come directly from them.”
This Week’s Poll Asks:
*Do you support the Government’s intention to force Councils to cut short community consultation over their Three Waters proposal?
Please share this article so that others can discover The BFD.