Hawke's Bay Today
Three Waters reform the ‘end of localism’
Will Three Waters compensate communities for their assets?
Six years ago, Hawke’s Bay people voted no in a referendum to amalgamate the five Hawke’s Bay councils. The proposal created a lot of heated debate, and although the opposition to amalgamation was overwhelming, I believe the referendum prompted the region to work together in a more meaningful way.
Now as a region we are facing the Three Waters reform. This has been an unnecessarily costly exercise to sort out water issues across the nation.
Ironically, these performance issues could have been very easily fixed without a reform process. The two main issues have been the lack of a consistent national regulator and lack of investment by central government, i.e. external funding.
The lack of a consistent national regulator has been remedied through the formation of Taumata Arowai.
The funding issue has not been remedied. However, in Hawkes Bay, the Government’s national Three Waters investment funding package, of which $50 million was set aside for Hawke’s Bay’s four local authorities, has demonstrated how extra money can completely change the outcome of Three Waters.
Councils have a lot of functions to deliver: roading, rubbish, water, waste, regulatory, and other community services while ensuring the Government’s four wellbeings are being attended to: social, cultural, economic and environmental.
Unfortunately, the Three Waters reform got too much momentum from the get-go. It started off with status quo being ruled out, and although there was a fairly genuine desire for improvement that morphed into a reform that forgot to take the community and iwi with it.
Local Government New Zealand was caught napping, a steering group was appointed without the knowledge of most councils and meanwhile the arrival of Covid-19 gave the Government a huge jump in momentum.
It appears the supporters of this reform knew more than the ones who didn’t support it.
Councils are now talking about opting in or opting out of the Government’s Three Waters proposal. I hope that if a lot of communities choose to opt out that the Government doesn’t then make it mandatory to become part of these new entities as they have told us all along that we will have a choice.
A significant issue I have is what becomes of the community-owned assets that generations of our communities have paid for? The reform proposes they will be transferred to another entity that includes the east coast of the North Island down to Wellington and takes in the top of the South Island.
If the communities are not compensated this could be seen as a confiscation of our assets and there is no guarantee these entities won’t be privatised for another organisation to make money at a later date and then who will benefit?
The Government is talking about huge savings across the board and 8000 new jobs.
However, we all know with centralisation, huge savings are often at the sacrifice of small and isolated communities like Wairoa. And if 8000 jobs are going to be created, why can’t they be created and funded by central government right now?
I have seen no information that the government is increasing its investment in Three Waters. These new entities will have to borrow money to develop infrastructure and provide services and the only way this money can be paid back is by residents paying for it — so effectively another rates account.
I cannot see how the delivery of
Three Waters will be cheaper under these proposed entities. Imagine how many individual and unconnected water supply systems there will be throughout the country.
At least with the electricity reforms of the past, even though electricity didn’t get cheaper, as was promised at the time, the grid was connected throughout the country. Water supply is not connected within districts and regions, let alone the whole country.
We have had no significant decision-makers visit our town to see our unique situation. You cannot make radical change like this by looking at figures only.
We already know the Government is not great at delivering at a local level. Just look at the housing crisis, the care of our children and mental health services.
I believe this is not actually about a Three Waters Reform, but about central government taking control over what local government does.
Under this proposal there are no guarantees that Wairoa will get better results than they would under continued council operations.
We will be talking with our immediate neighbours to hear their thoughts but given the current situation I personally am not convinced this is the right option for Wairoa. If the future of the Three Waters is going to be like the review process to date, Wairoa would have to consider opting out.
The way the Three Waters reform is heading indicates the end of localism.
We are facing DHB and local government reforms, will we lose roading too? Will central government suggest we are underperforming in roading because we have just had a drop in funding? If local communities end up being run by central government, then democracy as we know it will disappear.
I reiterate what Hawke’s Bay regional councillor Martin Williams said recently in Hawke’s Bay Today, “the biggest local government reforms in decades are not just on our doorstep but bashing down the door”.
Central government has started a local government reform, which should have been a great thing, but unfortunately it has got the review process around the wrong way. The Three Waters and Resource Management Act reforms will be completed before the local government reform has gained any momentum. This back-to-front approach could take Three Waters taken away from councils before there is an opportunity to review how it even fits within local government.
The Government’s Three Waters proposals do not address the issues we have. We need a genuine review with achievable solutions for the whole of New Zealand.
Communities and iwi need to have a say on this important issue and if you are not happy, I urge you to contact your MPs and elected members.