Too soon for water referendum: DIA

A Southern mayor’s call for a binding referendum on the water services reform is premature, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) says.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith called for a direct vote by ratepayers on the reforms as he shared various concerns about the Government’s proposed water services overhaul on a video late last month that has since been viewed more than 26,000 times.

Whether to opt in to the "confiscation of assets" was too big a call for elected councillors to make, he said.

Further, the support funding the Westland District Council was offered as an incentive could only be spent after it was "approved by iwi", he said.

With the proposed reforms, the vast majority of the South Island, based along Ngai Tahu territorial boundaries, would be served by one water provider.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a $2.5billion support package for councils, including $2billion for support to be divided among councils, last month.

"Nothing was mentioned about strings attached by the prime minister in her speech," Mr Smith said.

"As you know the devil is in the details, so we had to investigate."

A DIA spokesman said councils had an eight-week period to understand the reform proposals and provide feedback on how aspects of them could be improved.

After this, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta would consider next steps including the process for consultation and decision-making about the reforms, he said.

He did not say whether support funding required iwi approval.

However, DIA documents state councils would be expected to engage with iwi in determining how to use support funding allocations.

Southern mayors spoken to by the Otago Daily Times did not share Mr Smith’s views on a referendum, nor his concerns about iwi involvement.

Ngai Tahu did not respond to a request for comment.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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