23 Aug 2023

Final Three Waters bills pass through Parliament

9:30 pm on 23 August 2023
The Beehive in the evening in Central Wellington

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The final two pieces of legislation setting up the government's Three Waters programme have passed their third readings under urgency in Parliament.

The election in October will decide whether the system will remain.

Also known as "Affordable Water" after a rebrand in April, the suite of laws put management of drinking, waste and stormwater management systems in the hands of 10 purpose-built entities. They aim to repair and upgrade ageing assets and prepare for future challenges like climate change, while keeping the eye-watering sums required to do so manageable.

The Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill passed its committee and third reading stages on Wednesday evening. It sets up an economic regulation regime overseen by the Commerce Commission acting as a watchdog over service quality and efficiency, and sets out mandatory information disclosures.

It passed 71 votes in favour and 46 opposed, with the support of the Green Party, but with opposition from National, ACT, and Te Pāti Māori.

The Water Services Legislation Bill also passed both stages under urgency on Wednesday morning, setting out the duties, functions and powers of the new entities - which are set to begin operation no later than 2026, some earlier.

The bill also sets up monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and went through more than 300 changes after going before the select committee.

It passed 62 votes in favour and 57 opposed - with Labour the only party supporting it.

The two bills follow the passage of the Water Services Entities Amendment Act last week, which put in place changes proposed in April - including a shift from four massive entities to 10 smaller ones - at a cost to ratepayers.

The initial legislation setting up the transition of water services from councils - the Water Services Entities Act - was passed in December last year, while the Water Services Act back in October 2021 established drinking water quality regulator Taumata Arowai.

The bills' passage marks the completion of a government project that began after the Havelock North water crisis in August 2016, but attracted heavy criticism from councils over a wide range of concerns - not least that the government was forcing them all to take part.

National and ACT have both promised to repeal the entire suite of reforms - but keep the water regulator Taumata Arowai - if elected in October.

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