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Source: New Zealand Government

Introduction and acknowledgements

  • Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you at this year’s Stormwater Conference and Expo.
  • I would like to acknowledge the event organisers, Water New Zealand, and the event sponsors who have made it possible for us to be here today.
  • To Gillian Blythe and the Water New Zealand Board, I would like to congratulate you on this being the 20th anniversary of this conference.
  • Last year, COVID turned our world upside down. Although the days of living our lives in lockdown are starting to feel like a lifetime ago, our world has changed.
  • As a result, it is even more important than ever to celebrate the fact that we can hold events like this and come together in person.
  • This conference is a wonderful opportunity for you as industry leaders and experts to network and share your knowledge.
  • The Government is progressing a very busy programme of water reform. I would like to thank the Water New Zealand staff and members who have advocated for and contributed to the conversation to date.

A quick recap on the case for change

  • The case for change is clear.
  • We are faced with drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems that are under pressure across New Zealand.
  • Every day we are seeing the results of historic underinvestment, aging infrastructure, and all too common failure of water regulations and systems.
  • We continue to see examples of:
    • semi-permanent boil-water notices in many rural communities;
    • unconsented sewage discharges and overflows from towns into our water waterbodies; and
    • urban communities facing double-digit rates rises to fix failing water infrastructure.
  • All New Zealanders should be able to turn on the tap and drink water without the fear of getting sick.
  • We should also have reliable wastewater and stormwater networks that conform to our environmental and cultural expectations.  
  • These should be cornerstones of a healthy, developed society.
  • Now is the time for us to create change and protect our water for our rangatahi and for their tamariki and mokopuna.  

The Three Waters journey to date

  • Since I spoke to you last year, a large amount of progress has been made on the Three Waters Reforms, and in particular, our proposals to transform this country’s water service delivery arrangements.
  • Led by the joint Central/Local Government Three Waters Steering Committee, officials have continued a significant programme of engagement with local authorities and iwi/Māori representatives on options and proposals for the establishment of new, dedicated multi-regional water services providers.
  • Over the month of March, my officials held a series of national workshops to update and seek feedback on the proposals, including options and current thinking on the number, boundaries and institutional arrangements for the proposed water entities.
  • I’m told the workshops were attended by over 1,000 local government elected members, iwi/hapū representatives, and council staff from across the country.
  • We are also engaging with the water and local government sector through multiple channels to continue to build a picture of Aotearoa’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater funding and infrastructure.  
  • In March, the new national water services regulator – Taumata Arowai – was established as a new Crown entity.  
  • This organisation – and a new, strengthened regulatory regime within which it will operate and oversee – is the result of the Government’s response to the 2016 Havelock North Campylobacter outbreak and resulting inquiry.  
  • Taumata Arowai will be responsible for providing much-needed regulatory oversight to lift the performance of the systems that deliver the three waters services for Aotearoa.
  • Importantly, Taumata Arowai will be committed to ensuring all communities have access to safe drinking water, while overseeing the environmental performance of stormwater and wastewater networks.
  • As well as an independent Board, Taumata Arowai will be advised on Māori rights and interests by a rōpū, which will work alongside iwi and Māori as the Crown’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi partner.  
  • Taumata Arowai will become fully operational once the Water Services Bill, which is currently before the Health Select Committee, comes into law.
  • The Water Services Bill will provide Taumata Arowai with the powers it needs to assume the role of national regulator – this is expected to happen in the second half of 2021.

Service delivery reforms

  • Alongside three waters regulatory reform, this Government is progressing solutions to the critical and long-term challenges facing our public water services – challenges which I have canvassed to the sector at length over several years now.
  • In the coming months, Cabinet will be making critical decisions on these reforms.
  • It is clear that a large patchwork quilt of 67 local government water providers funding and delivering water services across the country will not be sufficient to address the long-term issues, or realise the significant benefits of reform.
  • We now know that the investment required to replace and refurbish our aging water infrastructure over the next 30 to 40 years is estimated in the order of $120 to $185 billion.
  • Meeting this enormous deficit will be beyond the funding and operational capacity of most councils and the communities they rely on.
  • What is needed, and what we are proposing, is transformation of the three waters service delivery system – a step-change in service performance, and better outcomes for New Zealanders in an affordable and financially sustainable manner.
  • The Government’s proposal to transfer water services to publicly-owned multi-regional entities is a bold step.
  • But it’s a necessary one to see sustainable, long-term benefits for our infrastructure, for our water sector, and for the health of our communities.
  • Drawing on a sustainable funding framework, and guided by professional boards and a te ao Māori perspective, these entities would be able to deliver more affordable, efficient, and reliable water services.
  • They would be well-positioned to:
    • address the long-term infrastructure deficit;
    • respond to the needs of future urban growth;
    • comply with safety standards and environmental expectations; and
    • build resilience in response to climate change and natural hazards.
  •  The overall scale of these entities is important.
  • This is because, without larger-scale entities sharing the costs across their communities and catchments of interest, smaller council ratepayers will bear a disproportionate amount of cost for their water services.
  • Through the advantage of scale, all communities will be able to benefit from the sharing of infrastructure and resourcing costs across a larger population base. 
  • The net result would see tangible benefits for kiwi households in the long-term, particularly for disadvantaged communities and low-income customers.

The importance of stormwater in the Three Waters Reform

  • As stormwater professionals, you will be all too aware of the complexities associated with current arrangements for planning, delivering, and funding stormwater services and infrastructure.
  • Many of these complexities have not been investigated by the Government before.
  • As I have outlined in previous speeches to this and other conferences, we are committed to a system-wide, holistic approach to three waters reform.
  • We recognise the interconnected nature of our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, all sitting alongside freshwater management.
  • The Government also recognises that lifting performance of our stormwater systems is critical to holistically improving our water quality – as wai flows from the source to the tap and back again.
  • Lifting the performance of stormwater systems will also be critical to meeting long-term challenges of climate change, and the continued concentration of growth in our urban centres. 
  • That’s why it’s important that the proposed water services entities have responsibility for all three waters – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.
  • The Government’s proposals for stormwater management under the reforms are being guided by a Stormwater Technical Working Group, made up of members of local government, iwi/Māori representatives, and water sector technical experts.
  • The Working Group is providing officials with advice to identify future arrangements for the planning and management of stormwater services over the coming decades – overseen by the new water entities.
  • As mentioned, while this reform programme is contributing to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders, poor water services disproportionately impacts smaller, rural and provincial communities, particularly Māori communities.
  • You only need to drive an hour or so out of some of our main centres to see communities without supplies of clean, safe drinking water. 

Rights and interests for iwi/Māori in water service delivery

  • Ensuring that the policy options for the proposed entities provide for equitable services to Māori has been paramount.
  • To date, officials have focused on equitable outcomes in the proposed new water services entities as a mechanism for recognising iwi/Māori rights and interests. 
  • The rights and interests of Māori as consumers of water services need to be predominately considered under the Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • Officials have been engaging on these proposals with iwi, hapū, and Māori throughout Aotearoa through both formal and informal hui.
  • What we are hearing from Māori, in carrying out our reform agenda, is the importance of:
    • stronger partnership between tangata whenua and the Crown under our Treaty relationship;
    • supporting the ability and capability of Māori to participate in the reform programme; and
    • working together to design something that improves the status quo for iwi, hapū, whānau, and small rural communities.
  • Effective engagement is critical to producing better quality outcomes for both Māori and the Government and ensuring that our Treaty obligations are honoured.
  • Our water is a precious taonga and if we do not act now to protect it in all its forms from waiora to waitai, then this gift will be lost for all.
  • The Government and Māori must recognise each other’s mana and work together on this kaupapa to find a solution that benefits both Māori and non-Māori.
  • If we look after our water, it will look after us.

Future for Local Government Inquiry

  • As we progress one of the biggest reforms of the local government sector in a generation, I am mindful of the potential impacts on the traditional role and functions of councils – in particular, our smaller rural and provincial councils.
  • Three waters, combined with reform of the resource management system, are foremost among a suit of reforms across Government that collectively have the potential to reshape our system of local government.
  • That is why I recently announced a Ministerial Review into the Future for Local Government.
  • Its overall purpose will be to identify how our system of local democracy and governance needs to evolve over the next 30 years to improve the wellbeing of New Zealand communities and the environment, while actively embodying the Treaty partnership.
  • It is timely to consider the current role and functions of local government, given the cumulative reforms being progressed and the technological and societal change that has occurred since the Local Government Act 2002 was enacted.

Concluding remarks

  • As Minister of Local Government, I have the privilege to oversee the Three Waters Reform Programme.
  • I am proud to be part of a once in a generation opportunity to lift the overall capacity of our national water systems and infrastructure and to improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
  • I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you all today.
  • Together we can build a world-class three waters system that delivers lasting benefits for all the people of Aotearoa.
  • All the very best for the rest of your conference.