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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

SIMON WATTS (National—North Shore): Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. I do rise to speak on the Water Services Entities Amendment Bill. Isn’t it ironic that we hear the opening words from the Minister in regards to this legislation, talking about the critique and criticism that is being levelled against this bill? You see, the reality is that our role in this House is to represent our communities, to represent the views of hard-working Kiwis across this country. It is not to simply pay lip service to that feedback and not take into account the views of our community.

Well, National have listened to our communities. We have listened to local government and we have proposed a solution, called Local Water Done Well, that we believe will deal with the reform requirements of water infrastructure in this country. As the Minister failed to note in his address as he opened today, all major parties in this House believe that water infrastructure reform is necessary. It is a question of how do we achieve that outcome. This bill is not the mechanism which we believe, nor the majority of local councils across this country—nor, in fact, the majority of Kiwis—is the pathway to achieve sustainable change in an area which is so critical.

I think when the Labour Party members reflect, in 51 days’, on some of the contributing factors of what happened in the 53rd Parliament, the water services entities legislation and the amendment bill that we are referring to and talking on at its third reading today will be a significant element and a significant contributing factor to the fact of where Kiwis no longer trust this Government. The three waters legislation and the Water Services Entities Amendment Bill is a litany of errors, it is a litany of broken promises, and it is a litany of making it up as you go. And that is the reality that personifies this Government and its processes.

Labour Ministers, and the Minister we have just heard from, are accountable for this reform. They are accountable for its failures and they are accountable for not listening to New Zealanders in regards to how this could have been improved. Because this bill could have been improved, had we given it more than six weeks of consultation with the public. On 22 June, this bill was read, and on 27 July it was reported back to this House. Well, is that acceptable? Is that the way in which we do business in this democracy? I say no. I say that is a complete derogation of our democracy and the fact that we should be taking this legislation that we passed through this House very seriously. We got that feedback loud and clear from submitters on this bill throughout the process that they did not have adequate time to be able to consider the inputs and requirements of this bill.

This bill is a back-down bill. This bill came as a result of the release of the National Party’s alternative, Local Water Done Well. Following that, with a new leader of the party and a need for a policy bonfire and a policy reset, and following the release of our alternative model, then this bill came into play. What is so frustrating is that, actually, none of the substantive aspects that needed to be changed in the bill, the elements around the mega-bureaucracies that are co-governed—an opportunity was there begging to be able to make the amendments and changes in this bill that went without any due consideration. And that is a great shame, because all this bill does is change the number of the mega-bureaucratic co-governed entities from four to 10. That’s pretty much it. It doesn’t deal with the significant pushback across this country that co-governance within the water services and the Public Service delivery—pipes under the ground is not the appropriate mechanism. Co-governance remains unchanged in regards to this legislation. The mandating of the fact that the assets and liabilities across councils will have to go into these new entities is unchanged, with the exception of the Chatham Islands, because don’t forget the Chatham Islands is actually the one territorial authority in this country which was exempted from this legislation. Well, there’s always one, but I do wish the 668 residents in the Chatham Islands all the very best, but they will not be alone in regards to the only entity that is outside this legislation; post 14 October, all other councils will join with them, and rightly so.

The other element of this bill that has not been modified that received significant feedback: 1,997 submissions. That’s quite a lot. The challenge is only 28 individuals were heard through the select committee process, and I think one doesn’t have to be too good at maths to work out that’s not a large number, but you can see why people are fired up and annoyed that their voice has not been heard. But the undemocratic element of this bill in regards to the Te Mana o te Wai statements—and the Minister continually says, and I acknowledge, that in the prior National-led Government, there was the introduction of the principle—the principle—of Te Mana o te Wai. The principle is very different to the introduction by this Government, and reinforced in this bill, of Te Mana o te Wai statements. The statements are not the principle; there is a very clear point of demarcation between those two aspects, because the statements, in effect, bring into place powers and obligations on a number of individuals in regards to this legislation. It is not a principle; it goes further. And so for the Minister to say that the Te Mana o te Wai statements in this bill are simply just a continuation of prior principles under prior Government is not consistent with what we heard in regards to the feedback during the select committee process.

New Zealanders are simple—sensible, sorry; they are sensible and they understand that this is going to be legislation that does not deal with the underlying aspects that we need in this country. This is a back-down bill, and what is interesting to hear from the Minister in regards to the fact that this legislation will remove debt from all of those councils that are burdened with debt, and this will mean that their rates are not going to go up—well, where does that debt all go? Where does it all disappear off to, because the costs and the debt required to fund the water pipes under the ground will still continue irrespective of where that ends up. So maybe the debt’s coming way from the council, but it’s going into another entity. And I’ll tell you what: there is no magic money tree. There is no magic money tree that means this debt just sort of disappears and that no one has an obligation in regards to paying. Ratepayers and taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for the funding of infrastructure in this area. So to simply say that removing the debt from councils, and, as a result of that, a reduction of rates, is going to solve all the problems, is, again, inconsistent and, again, not noting the reality that we are simply moving this problem from one side of the boat to the other. And it will still exist, and that obligation will still exist. And, yes, we do have a deficit of infrastructure, but simply ignoring the fact that this needs to be repaid is, I think, something that Kiwis will see through and have already seen through in regards to this bill.

The opportunity that was placed upon this Government in regards to this legislation, as I have highlighted, is absolutely there for the taking. The elements within this bill—there was a real opportunity in order to reset the position around water services and three waters infrastructure. That opportunity has not been taken up by this Minister, and this Minister, when reflecting on the performance of the 53rd Parliament, in 51 days, will need to take accountability for the actions that have been taken in regards to this piece of legislation and the other elements of the bill that are connected, because there is no one else that the blame can be laid upon other than the Minister, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, and the Prime Minister, for pushing through reform that was so strongly opposed by all New Zealanders. And that’s the reality: you’ll hear a lot of comments and excuses around that, but that is the reality of this bill. National opposes this bill.