Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Safe, clean drinking water is our birth right

Opinion 01/08/2019

By Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister for Maori Development, Labour MP Hauraki-Waikato.

This week the Government made a crucial step in make New Zealand’s drinking water clean and safe.

We have announced that we will have a dedicated watchdog and new water regulations to prevent another campylobacter outbreak like the one that struck Havelock North in 2016.

Access to safe, clean drinking water is a birth right for all New Zealanders.

I agree with the Minister of Health Dr David Clark, who says public safety is a non-negotiable priority.

We should be able to turn on our tap and drink the water without fear of getting ill.

For too long, the oversight of water has been split between a number of agencies and across a raft of legislation. As a result, responsibility has been fractured and ineffective.

In 2016, Havelock North saw 5,000 people become ill with gastroenteritis. Four deaths have been blamed on the outbreak. The Havelock North outbreak has been the subject of several investigations and those conclusions are the basis for these reforms.

Immediately following the Havelock North Inquiry Stage 2 Report, the Government started to implement its recommendations to make the public safer. At the same time, the 3 Water review worked on a long term programme of reform.

The reforms announced this week will see the appointment of a dedicated water regulator, who will have the final say on safe drinking water. The new regulator will have a range of responsibilities which will include sector leadership, compliance monitoring and enforcement.

There will also be a new Water Services Bill, an extension of regulatory coverage to all water suppliers except for individual households, and a strengthening of Government stewardship of wastewater and stormwater services.

The Government expects to introduce a new Water Services Bill by the end of the year. This will be subject to the usual examination by a Parliamentary Select Committee.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta is Minister for Maori Development, Minister for Local Government and Labour MP for Hauraki-Waikato.