BY JULIA WADE
11 July, 2022
One of central government’s most divisive issues, the Three Waters reforms, remains a contentious topic in the community with an unusally large crowd greeting Kaipara councillors at a recent meeting in the hope of encouraging the elected to take a stand against the unpopular reforms.
In a five minute presentation, which received much applause from the floor, Dargaville resident Alexandra Martin outlined concerns from various unnamed community groups around the government’s ‘Better Off Package’ (BOP) at Kaipara District Council’s (KDC) June 29 meeting, including the outcome of the group’s recent online survey regarding local citizens’ thoughts on the controversial legislation. Results showed that out of 131 participants, 127 were not in favour of council taking the BOP which consists of a $16 million payout [see Mangawhai Focus, April 25].
“Just over 93 percent of responders noted the fact that there was no public consultation which is an appalling state of affairs in a democratic society particulary on such an important issue,” Martin says. “Also, 85 percent were concerned that 90 percent of the BOP payment will be paid in arrears. If the government appeals this legislation in the future, and Kaipara has committed this money to projects reliant on the funding, ratepayers may potentially find themselves with more debt on the balance sheet.”
$16m hush money
“This is what we don’t want; by taking the money we’re saying we’re agreeing… we don’t need government to pay $16 mil to keep our mouths shut.”
Another main issue was the significant reduction of local government’s role, with 88 percent of respondents strongly agreeing this looked like a step towards centralisation, effectively removing local control over key public assets and services. Loss of council revenue as well as jobs for council staff and contractors are also at risk Martin says.
“These jobs are what keeps smaller communities going… government are slowly killing rural New Zealand by setting everything into larger centres. Kaipara has small opportunity, every job we lose potentially means another family will move away from the community.”
The scheme’s ‘convoluted four-tiered bureaucratic setup’ with extra administrative costs from co-governments and iwi, discounts the government’s claim that Three Waters will be ‘value for money for ratepayers’. Questions were also raised about the $51 billion dollar upgrade of the country’s water system and the source of the scheme’s funding, ‘if New Zealand defaults on payments, will overseas entities become owners of our countries most precious commodity?’
“From our small survey, the sentiments are clear; New Zealanders do not want to transfer their local water assets to central government,” Martin says. “Councillors, you are representing Kaipara’s community, and despite government pushing ahead, we ask you to keep voicing our disagreement of the scheme… we ask you to protect Kaipara for now and future generations.”
Martin says the group have lobbied the government and local MPs and only receive a polite generic letter in return – ‘we’re just brushed aside, they just doesnt listen’ and public consultation ‘is a must’.
“Consultation has to come from the ground up as central government have this heavy handed attitude that they can do whatever they want but they can’t without people complying,” she says. “I’ve hardly met anyone who likes this proposal, council would get a lot of feedback and if enough councils say they have consistent responses that the water reforms are not what communities want, surely they must listen.”
Questions were also asked about how well-informed survey respondents were after Mangawhai-Kaiwaka councillor, Peter Wethey, queried one of the statements: ‘$16 million does not reflect [Kaipara’s water] true asset value’ with 80 percent of participants agreeing. However, Wethey says the BOP multi-million dollar payout is not associated with the assets worth.
“What concerns me is a large number of your repsondents agreed with this statement… so it brings into question the respondents understanding of the whole issue and other questions. Did you give respondents an information package so they could familarise themselves with what’s on offer?”
Martin responded saying ‘that is exactly our point’.
“People do not know what the government is actually offering because there has been no public discussion. We could not give participants information as there is none easily available, unless people have the time after working all day to read the 200-page Three Waters Bill of gobbledygook.”
Mangawhai-Kaiwaka’s ‘workboot councillor’, Jonathan Larsen, says council did not have a chance to vote down on the water bill before government mandated it, and wondered if the group were suggesting Kaipara council needed an act of civil disobediance ‘as in we don’t comply and don’t hand assets over?’
Alexandra Martin says if enough councils voice a definite ‘no, we do not want this’ it would look very bad if goverment persisted.
“I think some people are scared of the issue because if you criticise anything to do with Maori or co-governence, you’re accused of being racist. That is not the right attitude, democracy means we need to argue the points and have discussions,” she says. “There are a number of councils in New Zealand who have taken a real firm stance and we feel Kaipara could do the same.”
Kaipara mayor, Dr Jason Smith, urged concerned constituents to make a submission on the government’s Water Services Entities Bill before it closes on July 22. Visit parliament.nz, Water Services Entities Bill, for more information and submission directions.
“From our small survey, the sentiments are clear; New Zealanders do not want to transfer their local water assets to central government.”
– Alexandra martin