06 Dec, 2021
After the October 28 mandatory announcement by Minister of Local Government, Nanaia Mahuta, the government formed a Three Waters Working Group made up of ten Iwi representatives and appointed mayors, to look further into the governance and decision-making arrangements surrounding the proposal. Organised by the Department of Internal Affairs, Kaipara’s own mayor Dr Jason Smith is one of nine mayors from around the country, who has been selected to participate.
Although Three Waters will remain compulsory, Smith says the group is ‘the body which will try to improve it’.
“I’m really pleased that Kaipara’s voice will be in there, we’re one of the smaller councils in New Zealand and to get our voice heard in this forum is really important,” says Smith. “These proposals include people on reticulated drinking water, but in Kaipara only 25 per cent of people are on mains, everyone else is on tank, so what does the Three Waters mean for them?
“I’m also one of the few mayors who is on tank water and has a septic tank so I have a different perspective… I’m happy to be involved.”
To date, the group have held a Zoom preliminary meeting, with two in-person meetings scheduled before Christmas and an increasing load of work planned until the March 7 deadline.
“By then we need to go back to the minister with improvements to the governance, accountability and representation aspects of the proposals… there is a lot of work ahead.”
At the recent November 24 KDC meeting councillors voted, five to three, to also join the Three Waters Reform Campaign Proposal, which councils from around New Zealand have formed ‘to seek reconsideration of the government’s position and look to other options’.
The campaign’s objective is to convince the government to alter its intention of the mandate, which compels councils to transfer their Three Waters assets ‘into the ownership and/or operational control of another legal entity without the agreement of an affected council to that transfer’.
Smith says that all NZ mayors recognise that the Three Waters systems – from pipes, water regulation bodies to systems governing stormwater - are less than ideal and new standards need to be put in place.
“There’s no one saying ‘she’ll be right’… mayors are for new standards and quality controls… and support the creation of new water services regulator ‘Taumata Arowai’,” he says. “The campaign is not a protest, but it is saying the speed with which the reforms are taking place is too fast… and have left the people behind.
“Kaipara council felt that we never got sufficient information to make a decision to opt in or out, and now we never will get to that point because its being taken away. Mayors are asking for the reforms to go more slowly so everyone has time to get to know what they’re about.”
To join the campaign, all councils are required to pay a fee, and although initially quoted $15,000, as KDC is classed as a ‘poor council but still passionate about the issue’ the contribution cost was reduced to $5000, which will be absorbed within council budgets.
Along with 30 other mayors, Smith has also added his signature to a letter addressed to the prime minister, to request an audience and ‘to be heard’ by Jacinda Ardern. He says prior to the mandate, mayors did not have this level of concern as they would have been able to opt out, but are worried now due to the compulsory reform being pushed through.
“Kaipara council have expressed repeatedly that we have little confidence in the reform program… and I havent had a single email in support of Three
Waters from any Kaipara resident,” he says. “Mayors occupy a very important part of New Zealand democracy as they are directly elected as representatives of their communities… and in regards to Three Waters, we are very concerned about democracy.”
Kaipara councillors voted, five to three, to also join the Three Waters Reform Campaign Proposal. PHOTO/FACEBOOK
Mayors around the country are asking for the controversial water reforms to go more slowly so everyone has time to get to know what they are all about about. PHOTO/BEN EARWICKER
“I’m really pleased that Kaipara’s voice will be in there, we’re one of the smaller councils in New Zealand and to get our voice heard in this forum is really important.”
- Jason Smith, Kaipara mayor