Nanaia Mahuta standing infront of water via Getty
Nanaia Mahuta via Getty

Lloyd Burr on Three Waters: No one likes a power-hungry government

Opinion 27/10/2021

OPINION: What on earth is the point of local councils if they’re stripped of their responsibility to provide vital services like fresh drinking water, effective waste water, and proper storm water? 

That is part of their fundamental role: water, sewerage, rubbish, parks, libraries, and beaches. 

Under the Ardern government’s Three Waters proposal, one of their key roles - water - will be stripped from them.  

Our 67 local councils will be stripped of this responsibility. 

So what will they do instead?

Will the government start to centralise other council roles?

Will there be an amalgamation of local libraries? 

Will there be a nationwide rubbish and recycling authority? 

What about parks and beaches? Swimming pools?

Where will the Beehive stop and centralising responsibilities that are the bread and butter or local councils?

I understand the argument for trying to make the management of water more consistent across the country. 

I understand the need to rationalise the costs associated with rebuilding ancient water pipes and poo pipes and culverts and what not. It’s a whopping $185b over 30 years, or $7b every year until 2051. 

But the solution is not an asset-grab. 

Stealing these assets and creating another layer of governance and red tape to manage them is not going to fix them. 

And how will the rates structure work? 

What about Kiwis who aren’t connected to mains water and sewerage? What about the ones who collect their own water to drink, and have septic tanks? Will they get a rebate? 

Will Aucklanders pay more? Because their water travels further? 

Will iwi own 50% of this infrastructure in perpetuity? 

What will this mean for claims that Maori own the water? 

These are all just prima facie questions. 

But they’re ones the government needs to answer. 

No one likes a power-hungry government. 

No one likes having local decision-making taken away from them. 

So Jacinda Ardern and Nanaia Mahuta, you need to allay these fears, explain what you’re doing, and make it convincing. 

Otherwise you won’t just have a Three Waters problem, you’ll have a 5-million-citizens-in-revolt problem. 

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