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Nanaia Mahuta is quite correct to state that the Three Waters reforms are not about shifting ownership of council assets to government control. That is not needed. It is clearly about the redistribution and control of those vital assets to a new entity made up entirely of ministerial appointments.
Ownership, even by councils, is now far from essential if a government can legislate to subjugate ownership of land and water-use rights to political control for political advantage.
By applying this understanding, the once murky Three Waters rationale becomes crystal clear. The current Three Waters reform is more about locking in the Government’s Maori caucus, the Maori Party and the Green Party as we move towards co-governance of New Zealand.
Readers will also be aware of claims to fresh water filed with the courts by Maori interests. The back door is now wide open for the stalking horse of redistribution to co-governance. (See Maori Health Authority/demise of DHBs/separate tax system/renaming of New Zealand.)
While Maori claims to water are based on the three Treaty clauses, it must be remembered the all-important purpose of the Treaty of Waitangi was to enable British settlers and Maori to live together under a common set of laws. Non-Maori were not to be given preferential treatment over the indigenous people.
Real concerns for the wellbeing of Maori at that time were exemplified by two House of Lords select committee inquiries in the late 1830s which dealt with how Maori were being treated. The inquiry promoted genuine concerns from humanitarian groups that exposure to disease and maltreatment were threatening the very survival of the race. Today Maori make up a healthy 16% of the population.
The Government is literally testing the waters to see what reaction occurs to this Three Waters proposal, to see what level of acceptance by the wider population is allowed before loss of political power occurs.
It is of real concern that at least two southern mayors are already expressing tacit support for the Three Waters proposal without any consultation with their ratepayers. They appear not to accept that representative democracy is the tool by which they operate and therefore must seek out and accept the will and most importantly, the authority — given by the majority. It is a great mistake of understanding to believe our councils and indeed our Parliament is the basis of our freedoms. Both local and central Government politicians are generally most reluctant to defend our collective freedoms.
The Three Waters proposal and its timing are hardly a surprise. New Zealand is entirely focused on Covid-19 and its variants, which affords a perfect time to introduce contentious legislation or ‘‘reform” as the minister calls it.
If a cursory glance is cast at Government schemes to improve the wellbeing of us all, we need look no further than the failure to build the promised 100,000 new homes. The reduction of carbon in the atmosphere is mocked by importing one million tonnes of coal this year alone. The mental health issue is not well managed by Government — and so it goes on.
Councils now control land and water use through a series of regional documents with a variance of success. The big difference with the minister’s proposal from the current system is that the ratepayer has access to their local body. Try getting an appointment to see a minister of the Crown anytime soon. The minister will now appoint her representatives to manage the administration of this most vital of all local functions with a likely success rate similar to the 100,000 new houses promise.
Perhaps the most ironic part of this proposal is the contention that administration of water is simply recognising this as a right of Maori under the Treaty. It seems rather incongruous that the Treaty bestowed upon Maori one of the greatest gifts of all but unrecognised at the time in 1840. That of citizenship and equal status with British citizens. Today people from all over the world clamour to enter Britain and indeed New Zealand due to our laws and judicial system, which treats everyone equally — for the time being.
It is claimed that water is a taonga to Maori which is indisputable. So, too, is water a taonga to non-Maori, especially to those rural folk who rely on water, store water, to benefit families, friends and communities of all races, colour and creed.
We are set to be disenfranchised. As with most government ideas and schemes, the theory and the practice are simply incompatible. Author Danielle di Martino Booth quotes a sign found in a remote island off Norway which pretty much sums up the Three Waters proposal. (Paraphrased)
“Theory is when bureaucrats and ministers understand everything, but nothing works. Practice is when everything works but nobody understands why. In Wellington theory and practice are united, so nothing works as it should and nobody understands why.”
Welcome to the world of Three Waters.
- Gerrard Eckhoff is a retired Central Otago farmer and former Otago regional councillor and Act New Zealand MP.