Three Waters: First bill introduced to Parliament

The first piece of legislation setting out the Three Waters Reforms has been introduced to Parliament today.

With local body elections coming in October, the contentious reorganisation of drinking, waste and stormwater can be expected to attract a lot of heat.

In a statement, Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said the Water Services Entities Bill would establish the four regional Water Service Entities which would take over water management from 67 councils.

It also included changes as recommended by the working group on representation, governance and accountability.

Mahuta said the bill would secure community ownership of the water entities, and while it had robust mechanisms to provide for iwi/Māori interests in the system, it also made clear that did not extend to ownership.

Everyone accepted the need for change, and without reform infrastructure would continue to deteriorate, she said.

"Households, businesses and communities would face genuine public health risks, services that don't meet their needs, and rising bills of up to $9000 a year per household just for water services.

"Years of underinvestment across the country has led to threats to water quality. Pipes burst in our city streets, sewage flows into our waterways, and almost 500,000 New Zealanders in one year were forced to boil their water because of faecal contamination."

Up to $185 billion of investment was estimated to be required, and the Government's proposed model would safeguard against privatisation, she said.

Mahuta's statement said it was the "first of several" bills, and further legislation focusing on economic regulation and consumer protection was in the pipeline.

After its first reading, the bill will be open to public submissions at the select committee.

It follows a law passed in 2020 which set up water regulator Taumata Arowai, which will set stronger standards for drinking water across the country.
Three councils are taking a case to the High Court, seeking a declaration over property rights relating to the reforms.

Timaru, Waimakariri and Whangārei District Councils' case - set down for next week - argues the model of ownership set down in the proposed law relating to assets like drainage and reservoirs do not align with existing property rights and laws.

Meanwhile, National Party local government spokesperson Simon Watts said the introduction of the bill confirmed local communities' worst fears.

"Labour is unleashing hell on local government, putting their ideology before the wishes of people and outcomes," he said.

The bill laid out the plans for what he said was theft of local assets and the establishment of a complex and unaccountable bureaucracy.

"The Government has consistently ignored alternatives proposed like establishing council controlled organisations or contracting, and have pursued their four mega-entities model.

"This is just the Labour Party centralising decision-making and rewarding its stakeholders at the expense of ratepayers."

He promised National would repeal and replace the Government's model if elected in 2023.

ACT's Simon Court said the worst aspect of the reforms was co-governance.

"It's divisive, dangerous and totally inappropriate to give iwi a seat at the table just because of who their ancestors were. All New Zealanders want clean and safe water, not just iwi," he said.

"Labour has wasted millions on taxpayer-funded propaganda ad campaigns, tried to bribe councils with $2 billion, and is now arrogantly pushing ahead.

"Ratepayers are rejecting Three Waters because Labour is taking control of their assets and centralising them in a bureaucratic new regime."

The current system was not up to scratch, but taking control away from councils was wrong, he said.

ACT proposed having councils establish public-private partnerships to attract investment from financial entities like KiwiSaver funds, ACC, and iwi investment funds.