13 Apr 2023

Watch: National Party leader Christopher Luxon responds to Three Waters revamp

3:03 pm on 13 April 2023

National Party leader Christopher Luxon is in Auckland, responding to the government's changes to its Three Waters reform programme.

The new plan, dubbed 'Affordable Water Reforms', will have 10 regional entities rather than four, and start two years later than the original scheme.

The entities will be divided along typical regional lines, avoiding the difficulties of having one organisation spanning both the lower North Island and upper South Island.

The government said the changes, unveiled on Thursday, will mean individual councils will have a bigger say over the water service entities.

Luxon was scheduled to start talking to the media at 3pm. It follows an earlier appearance by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty.

The National Party has slammed the government's revised reforms, calling them the same broken plans with a new coat of paint.

Luxon said the government decided to change the name, change the website but "we're still stuck with Three Waters".

"It's a dumb policy, we're going to repeal it and again we change the number four, end up with the number 10, and nothing else has changed so not a great start on three waters I would have thought from this government."

It was simply a rebranding with more entities but with the same structure and with no changes to the co-governance aspect, he said.

"Our proposal's really simple: We're going to repeal the government's legislation, we're going to make sure we actually return these assets that have been confiscated from local governments and local residents, to local councils.

"We're going to make sure that there's really good water quality standards, that there's a really good investment in infrastructure - and that's a water infrastructure regulator - and we make sure that the councils can actually have access to long-term debt funding so they're financially sustainable."

The party's local government spokesperson Simon Watts said it was a "desperate attempt" at rebranding Three Waters.

By opting for 10 entities, the government was making a mockery of its claims that four entities was the only solution, Watts said.

"Labour's Three Waters has been a disaster from start to finish.

"Labour has also kept the divisive co-governance structure, which is undemocratic and will not lead to better water services."

He disputed the minister's claim a majority of councils backed the government's latest proposal.

"I'd love to know which majority he's talking about ... the public see through this, they see it for what it is, it's the government trying to get out of a difficult situation by just rebranding three waters as something new, and just keeping the same entity structure but just moving it from four to 10."

David Seymour

ACT's David Seymour focused on co-governance in his criticisms of the revamp. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT leader David Seymour told RNZ the promised cost savings were simply not plausible.

"The promise of savings for ratepayers have never been plausible, you have the same ratepayers, the same pipes, and extraordinary savings promised from an administrative restructure which has never stacked up," he said.

There were questions too about the funding required for shifting gears from the four entities to the 10, he said.

"How much has been spent on the four entities so far, how much of that can be transferred to 10 entities, and how much will be the cost of now administering through 10 entities that have to be set up - and the fact they require an additional two years suggests those costs will be significant."

He said the larger number of entities would mean more local control than under the previous model, but nowhere near the control of the current 67 territorial authorities, and "ultimately seats around the table on representative groups are still defined by whether you're Māori or non-Māori".

"It's unclear why you should have a different interest in governing these entities however many there are based on who your ancestors were when that doesn't affect the workings of three waters today."

"This is a centralisation, it's a robbery of power and control from local communities who built up these assets through their rates over generations."

He said the changes today were a concession by the government their plan did not work, and "shows a commitment to marketing over substance which was one of the hallmarks of the Jacinda Ardern period".

Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

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