14 Apr 2023

Three Waters revamp: Labour and National continue to debate the numbers

10:40 am on 14 April 2023
Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty speaks at a media briefing on the government's Three Waters revamp, 13 April 2023.

Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty speaks at a media briefing on the government's Three Waters reset. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty says the proposed changes to the Three Waters programme were about finding a balance to financial benefit and ensuring local representation.

The government has unveiled its shake-up of the Three Waters reforms, abandoning plans to establish four mega water entities, and instead creating 10 of them.

A number of mayors opposed to the initial proposal remain unimpressed with the government's dilution of the programme, while those who were supporters were disappointed with the changes.

McAnulty told Morning Report that there was no way to please everyone.

"And we've found that that's the case, all of those that were in support of four [entities], would still rather 10 than nothing and I think that's the context that we've got to look at this."

The government knew it would not get the whole local government sector on board, he said.

"But we also know that we've got to do something because the country's facing a massive problem and the country's also got a very clear choice."

McAnulty felt for the councils, who would now receive less funding.

"The fact is $1 billion of that 1.5 [billion dollars] was going to be funded through debt by the entities. Four entities could manage it, 10 couldn't."

McAnulty said he did not think any of the sector wanted what the National Party was proposing and it did not work.

"This comes down to the fact that ratepayers will always have to foot the bill, it's how cheap we can make that bill, it's always going to be done by borrowing so it comes down to the cost of borrowing."

National has never stacked up the numbers, he said.

National Party local government spokesperson Simon Watts told Morning Report Labour's numbers could not be trusted but he could not provide any of his own figures for his party's proposed plan.

The party has had discussions with S&P but had not paid for any reports, Watts said.

Simon Watts

The government's water reforms are not financially sustainable, Simon Watts says. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government's rebrand of Three Waters would not fool anyone, Watts said.

"Everyone said it's moved forward but the reality is, what was on the table was a pretty big disaster..."

Mana whenua and local council representatives will continue to be equally represented in the groups advising the 10 new regional water entities.

The boards will recieve strategic oversight from groups made up of local council and mana whenua representatives.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said during the announcment of the changes yesterday this was not co-governance.

Watts said co-governance was divisive and the National Party did not think it would work.

"It's not part of our model."

Local authorities would be able and expected to engage with iwi under National's plan, Watts said.

This would not be forced by central government, he said.

Minister of Conservation visiting workers removing wilding pines in Craigie Burn

Eugenie Sage says the government needs to be sharing more revenue with local government to allow them access to different water sources. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The Green Party was underwhelmed by the relaunched policy.

Greens water services spokesperson Eugenie Sage told Morning Report the party still had significant concerns.

"We have major concerns about the continued corporatisation push," Sage said.

Nature was the most important infrastructure for water and we needed to protect source water, she said.

Storm water management would be taken from councils under the reforms but the Greens believed it made more sense for them to continue to have this responsibility, she said.

More entities made sense because it followed regional council boundaries, which meant a stronger local voice and entities better connected to communities, she said.

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