9 Jun 2022

First three waters reform bill passes first reading in Parliament

5:22 pm on 9 June 2022

The first piece of legislation putting in place the government's three waters reforms has passed its first reading in Parliament.

No caption

The first reading passed with 77 votes in favour, and 42 votes opposed (file image). Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

New Zealand's drinking, waste and storm water management will go into the hands of four new council-owned water entities, instead of 67 councils.

The Water Services Entities Bill is the piece of legislation that establishes the four entities. At least one more bill will follow, transferring the assets and setting up consumer protections.

"We're taking decisive action to ensure all communities have safe, affordable, and sustainable drinking water services, along with stormwater and wastewater networks that meet our environmental and cultural expectations," Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said.

She acknowledged there had been fierce opposition to the reforms.

"It is unsurprising, given the scale of these reforms, that they have generated much debate. There have been requests to stop the reforms, and go back to the drawing board. But we have been talking about these problems for the past twenty years. It's time for action."

The bill incorporates recommendations made by the government's working group.

Councils are to be divided among four regional water service entities, and each get one share in their entity for every 50,000 people in their area, with a minimum of one share for every territorial authority.

The first reading passed with 77 votes in favour, and 42 votes opposed.

Green party MP Eugenie Sage spoke in favour.

"Sticking with the status-quo doesn't recognise that we need change," she said.

The party had some concerns which Sage hoped would be ironed out in select committee.

"A lot of the contracts that are currently contracted out by councils to smaller contractors within their communities, there's no protection for that," she said.

The government's majority meant the bill was always going to pass. Both National and ACT said they would repeal the legislation if they formed a government.

National's local government spokesperson Simon Watts warned Labour it could hurt them in next year's election.

"This bill was a 134 page severance letter to Labour's back bench."

Mana whenua and councils will be given an equal number of seats on a representation group which sets the entities' strategic direction. They won't have operational control, but will appoint board members to the water service bodies.

The co-governance model has drawn the majority of the opposition's ire.

"People shouldn't have a seat at the table just because of who their grandparents are," said ACT's local government spokesperson Simon Court.

Watts said it would not mean improving the infrastructure.

"The reality in this bill is when you strip everything away, this is about pipes in the ground. Kiwis want those things to deliver, and co-governance will not help us to achieve that goal. Pipes do not differentiate based on race," said.

A number of councils also vehemently oppose the legislation, with three district councils going to the High Court.

The Timaru, Waimakariri and Whangārei District Councils said the move would take away their assets without fair compensation, and remove democratic accountability.

The reforms are also opposed by farming group Groundswell - although co-founders Laurie Paterson and Bryce McKenzie admitted they had not actually read the legislation.

The bill will now go through the Select Committee process.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs