How quickly we forget.
Most accept that local government and their water entities have been quite incompetent in planning or delivering safe water for citizens. Auckland. Hawkes Bay. Wellington. Dunedin. Christchurch. All the smaller council entities that have a C water rating and below. A few have done a good job at provision but they are small minority.
Most accept that our fresh water systems are in a perilous state. This has been made far worse over the last 20 years by the vast acceleration of fresh water use in dairy agriculture in the South Island but also across southern Waikato, on top of massive wetlands and catchment destruction from the deep south to the far north.
National are not arguing against a new national water regulator for quality and a national water regulator for water price.
No party has argued that there has not been long term underinvestment in water infrastructure, increasing public expectation, stricter water safety and environmental regulations, the need to account for growth, and greater resilience to climate change and seismic events. There’s over 30,000 water-infected people who can easily attest to this anyway.
To underline the point about local underinvestment, this government has spent over $3 billion in three years already fixing up the mess that local councils and their water entities are in, with:
That degree of expenditure starts to show what local government and their water entities needed to have been doing, so the taxpayer has instead invested to make up for their investment failure.
Only Act is arguing against the case for massive and structural change.
The Government’s Three Waters Reform Programme will form four publicly-owned multi-regional entities with the scale, expertise, operational efficiencies and financial flexibility to provide safe water services for New Zealanders. This will include the entities being able to borrow more than councils for necessary upgrades and maintenance.
Other models were possible but they have gone for four entities. For Watercare it is a minor expansion of what they do already. It would not surprise me if the four entities mirror the pan-Council regions that the new Regional Spatial Strategies and regional Natural and Built Environment Plans.
The Government have not been presented with any alternative proposals that would deliver the range of objectives and ambitions needed to be achieved for all New Zealanders or do so in a way that could be applied across the country without resulting in large geographic differences in service delivery outcomes and cost.
Act’s view in their words is that “Yes, the Crown did sign a Treaty of Waitangi with iwi and hapu and what it have iwi and hapu in exchange for ceding their sovereignty to Queen Victoria was protection of their property rights, protection of their chieftanship – of their status – and protection of their customary lands.” We have seen Act’s politics driven under the guise of Don Brash many years ago – but then Don Brash lost National the election badly and most Councils have put in the Maori seats he thought were so racist.
Most of New Zealand have simply moved on.
National has been a strong supporter of Maori co-governance of water for many years. National itself passed the legislation that gave Waikato command over the allocation of the Waikato River and Waipa River. National also passed the legislation that gave local iwi command over the Taupo catchment in the 1998 Taupo Accord. National also prepared the legislation providing for the personhood of the Wanganui River. National also passed the 2014 legislation providing for full Maori control over the massive Uruwera water catchment.
Chris Finlayson the Attorney General under PM John Key has called National ‘nincompoops’ about co-governance. It was Chris Finlayson who drafted much of the co-governance legislation for the acts cited above.
Labour’s track record in co-governance goes back at least to 1987 and the Conservation Act which had the very powerful Treaty of Waitangi clause requiring in section four that those bound by it must “give effect” to the principles of the Treaty.
Both Egmont National Park and Tongariro National Park were founded on theft from Maori ownership, and now have co-governance at their core.
With the exception of Tongariro and Taranaki, Maori weren’t given statutory appointments onto park boards or the National Parks Authority, but Forest & Bird, Federated Mountain Clubs and the Royal Society were represented from the outset. All New Zealand national parks now have a form of co-governance upon them. Ngai Tahu are a statutory advisor to Aoraki Mont Cook National Park.
So under both Labour and National co-governance has been orthodox policy for over 30 years.
The world has not fallen in. On the contrary it is simply an accepted part of how we run things.
The real people who don’t accept this orthodox policy are the ones most focused on destroying any new environmental legislation: farmers and their agribusiness advocates. They have opposed every single piece of environmental reform in this government, and that is because their profit levels require that water and waste be a free resource for them alone. That is the way they make the dairy industry work, rather than pay for their pollution and their water extraction.
The wedge that the agribusiness lobby has sought to drive into New Zealand is fear of “co-governance”, that is to say fear that Maori will have a strong ownership impact on water management. On the long term track record of both National and Labour over multiple decades this fear is utterly unfounded.
Much of it is simply ignorance of where co-governance applies.
The pan-regional water entity boards are appointed on competence.
These boards report to the regional representation groups where the co-governance provisions apply.
The board develops the strategy, appoints the chief executive, monitors the execution of strategy.
The board itself is answerable to the regional representative group, who is there to represent the community interests.
The regional representative group will appoint the board members.
This is as it has been for conservation, tertiary education, public media, now health, and many other areas of New Zealand government.
Co-governance is orthodox policy for both National and Labour, and that includes water.