I am a regular listener of Radio New Zealand’s Political Commentators’ show although recently I have wondered why. The commentors from the right are a mixed bag. Ben Thomas schmoozes but Bridgit Morton grates. She has an ability to use extreme language in the mold of occasional Standard reader Matthew Hooton. National can do no wrong and Labour can do no right.
She is clearly deeply partisan which of itself should not preclude her involvement. But allowing clearly compromised opinions in a segment involving political discussion appears to me to be wrong. In yesterday’s episode Morton said this:
I think that without any doubt three waters is a toxic thing for this Government and I take the opportunity to declare that we represent a group currently taking the three waters to court.”
She is right about her involvement. She works for Franks Ogilvie who represents the Water User’s Group which is currently taking the Government to Court seeking judicial review of aspects of the Three Waters rollout.
Who is the Water User’s Group? It is an incorporated society having its registered office at Franks Ogilvie. The initial members names I do not recognise apart from John Bishop who I presume is Chris Bishop’s father. The organisation is closely associated with the Tax Payers Union and they are clearly both on a mission to thwart Three Waters. The phrase “astrosurfer” springs to mind.
The litigation is seeking the Court to make a series of declarations that Nanaia Mahuta’s recommendations to Cabinet were based on errors of law. It is focusing on Maori rights to water and in particular opposes the Minister’s assertions that a pan-Maori interest in water exists.
Clearly the concept of co governance is being attacked. Under the Water Services Entites Bill Regional Representatives Groups will be established and will have various powers including the appointment of directors, the setting of the entity’s strategic direction and performance expectations and reviewing the performance of the entity. The board members will have day to day running of the entity.
The rhetoric coming from Franks Ogilvie about the bill is rather extreme. There is this opinion which claims that the Government’s safeguards to stop privatisation are false misleading and deceptive. They say this because shares are being issued and because Councils will own shares rather than retain ownership of the actual water assets currently owned. This of course ignores the numerous protections in the bill and the fact that Councils retain effective control of the entity through their shares. The bottom line is that the owners of shares will have extensive power and effective control over the entity. And the bill does not address issues such as who owns Waitakere’s Parkland from which Watercare sources a fair chunk of its water. My hunch is that this will remain in Auckland Council’s ownership and Frank Ogilvie’s hand wringing will be irrelevant.
The background is important because Radio New Zealand allows one of the persons involved in the litigation free and regular reign to come onto the station and in a show involving political commentary say the most outlandish things. And there is a big fundraising drive happening to fund the litigation.
Of course partisan commentary is important. But there should be a limit. Merely declaring an interest should not be enough.