Council clear Three Waters process flawed

Southland district councillors, feeling frustrated with the way the Government has handled the Three Waters Bill, want to send a clear message to the select committee that the Southland District Council does not support the Bill.

Cr Rob Scott said he agreed the current system needed to change. The four entity model lacked accountability — especially for ratepayers.

Southland district councillor Rob Scott
Southland district councillor Rob Scott
"The reform is right but the method is wrong; the process is wrong; the consultation is wrong ... with this one opportunity we have to send a really strong message."

If the reforms were so good, nationwide agreement would also exist.

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said the Three Waters juggernaut was gathering steam despite significant opposition.

"Unchanged, it will put control of critical infrastructure in the hands of unelected and hard-to-hold-to-account entities, likely headquartered away from rural New Zealand."

Southland Mayor Gary Tong has similar concerns to Cr Scott and believes the Government has already made its mind up and it was unlikely to change.

Cr Ebel Kremer believed it was important that when the council representatives spoke to the select committee, the committee shared new information to ensure the submission was properly heard rather than tell them something they already knew.

Cr Scott said he had been uncomfortable with the Three Waters process from the beginning.

Information from central government about the proposed Three Waters changes presented at the 2021 local government conference had been scant. It had also contained incorrect assumptions which skewed people’s understanding of the issues.

"Over the last 12 months, I feel like the reform process has gone from bad to worse as far as the process goes ... all while not being able to consult with our ratepayers."

The council had been told it would be able to consult with ratepayers after the LGNZ conference, but the decision became obsolete after the Government’s mandates were announced.

He praised council staff for the quality questions sent to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta — which had yet to be responded to.

Cr Margie Ruddenklau said while her son had received a response from Ms Mahuta, it was poor form the council had not received anything.

She was also concerned about the level of anxiety developing in the communities because of the reforms and the disproportional mana whenua representation on the four entity boards.

Cr Julie Keast found it difficult to believe the Government would ever deliver on the promised reform’s benefits or accountabilities.

Cr Scott said the council had been promised partnership with central government, transparency and due process.

"I’ve seen little to none of that.

"We’ve been led down the garden path ... that’s not partnership and transparency ... and that needs to be addressed.

"We cannot give robust opinion until we receive robust information."

Councillors also expressed their frustration at being unable to engage in any meaningful public consultation because too many questions still remained unanswered by the Government.

"We’ve been restrained from providing alternatives the whole way through. The working group that was set up was not allowed to look at alternative approaches. Everything has been focused around this four entity model which has been founded on incorrect data."

He believed the Government needed to pause the process until questions had been adequately answered and the promised processes had been followed.

By Toni McDonald