13 November 2021. More than a dozen Council’s across New Zealand, including Kiapara District Council which would be amalgamated with Auckland, have banded together to actively campaign against the Three Waters Reform. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff refuses to join them. I would support Auckland adding its weight to this campaign.
The Government’s decision to forge ahead with its Three Waters proposals, despite widespread opposition from local councils, has prompted me to seek a judicial review.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has made an unforgivable U-turn by removing the promised option for councils to opt in or opt out of the Three Waters reform process.
This is because the vast majority of New Zealand councils, including Auckland, have deep concerns.
A judicial review looks at whether the Government acted fairly, followed correct procedures and acted within their powers.
Such a review would require the majority of Auckland councillors to support it. Once this is done, other councils from around New Zealand would be invited to also lend their support. However, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is not supporting a judicial review.
His response to my call for a judicial review reads: “I have sought advice on whether judicial review would be effective in achieving change in the Governments proposals. However, the advice I have received from staff is that the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty and the fact that local government is a creature of central government statute means that the Government is free to legislate changes which are then binding on Council.
We have therefore chosen not to follow that route but to participate through the Working Group to seek to persuade the Government to make the changes we believe are necessary.”
The “Working Group” set up by the Labour-led Government to smooth the path forward has an Auckland representative on it – ex-Labour leader Phil Goff.
Let’s also not forget Minister Mahuta, who is spearheading the Three Waters Reform, is the same person responsible for making overseas diplomatic appointments, such as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, a posting which Goff is reported to be seeking. Can anyone else see the web of conflict of interests here?
Ratepayers across Auckland should now, more than ever, rally to put pressure on the Auckland councillors to have a judicial review initiated. This is the only one of few independent and legal options left available to ratepayers to appeal the reform.
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Moving forward, a possible solution would be for Auckland Council to continue to retain control of Watercare – which currently manages Auckland’s wastewater and drinking water supply.
Auckland’s water quality and infrastructure systems are recognised as being the best in the country and the envy of all other Councils. So why change things?
Watercare is governed by a board of directors, who are answerable to elected councillors, who are in turn answerable to ratepayers. Retaining strong accountability to ratepayers is vitally important, but the Government’s proposal seeks to distance ratepayers from having such an important position in the governance structure. I believe this is wrong.
Watercare could even invite struggling northern councils to consider consolidating their water assets under its management. Elected members of those northern councils could then have a seat on Watercare’s board. In this way, Watercare would become the overarching water controlling entity for the north, but still be accountable to ratepayers.
This could potentially achieve the Governments desired overall outcomes, but without removing ratepayers from being a strong part of the governance framework.
Personally I draw little comfort from the fact that the Government says that it will gather its own public feedback on Three Waters, but only via a select committee process.
Ordinary ratepayers will be intimidated by such a high level process. Ratepayers are being purposely manipulated from having a voice over the future of the assets they paid for and own. That is, ratepayers, via there Council’s consulting with them, are not being allowed full and frank input into the process.
There is also a short term “Working Group” the Government has allowed to be formed to give ideas about any tweaks to the overall program. Mayor Goff will be seeking feedback from Aucklanders about what he wants to achieve as a member on that Group early in December. The membership can be found via this link: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/working-group-ensure-local-voice-three-waters-reform
This at least allows the Mayor the give input, with some input from ratepayers. That’s better than nothing. However, the normal full consultation processes of how Council’s typically engage with their ratepayers is not being allowed.
Accordingly, the Government’s intention is to push forward at full steam to create four publicly owned entities to manage drinking water, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure throughout New Zealand.
It is disgraceful behaviour from Minister Mahuta and it flies in the face of any Treaty-based principles.