16 Feb 2024

Parliament repeals Three Waters programme under urgency

4:45 pm on 16 February 2024
New Zealand parliament; beehive

New Zealand parliament. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The government has pushed the repeal of the previous government's Three Waters programme through all stages under urgency.

Parliament sat late into the night and restarted on Wednesday morning to process the Water Services Acts Repeal Bill.

Labour's system would have shifted management of local councils' drinking, waste, and storm water services into 10 large purpose-built independent entities, with the aim of getting water infrastructure up to scratch and protecting against future threats like climate change.

The idea was these larger, independent entities could then borrow at much greater levels than councils could achieve on their own.

National, however, has long argued the approach would take the assets out of local ownership and management, and heavily criticised the "co-governance" aspects of the reforms which would have given Māori with mana whenua to the area a 50 percent presence on strategic oversight boards.

At the third reading, Labour's Willie Jackson said the reforms' architect, Nanaia Mahuta, had been subjected to "the most shameful racist attacks in the history of this Parliament".

The government this week announced it was setting up an advisory board to work on the replacement legislation - set to be in place by mid-2025 - saying this would allow councils to voluntarily form their own groupings and council-controlled organisations.

These bodies would be similar to the Wellington Water and Watercare systems in place for Wellington and Auckland, but would also include ringfencing.

The government has been adamant they would also be able to achieve the separation of council balance sheets which the reforms relied upon to achieve cheaper borrowing at scale, driving down the costs for individual councils.

Labour has argued this balance sheet separation - which reduces the risk for lenders by removing control of the assets from already highly leveraged local authorities - would not be achievable if councils retain control of the assets, as National has promised.

The repeal bill passed with the support of the National, ACT, and NZ First just before 10am. Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori were opposed.

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