Saturday 30 October 2021

Three Waters: What’s Not To Like?

Zero Choices: The Sixth Labour Government’s plan: to seize the entire drinking, storm and waste water infrastructure of the nation, wrap it up in layer upon layer of legal Kevlar, and then, with the cheapest money taxpayers’ money can borrow, implement the sort of upgrades that generation after generation of cowardly local politicians have considered it more expedient to defer. What’s not to like?

WHERE ARE THE HEADS of Labour’s Caucus at? What was going through them when Nanaia Mahuta brought her “Three Waters” plan to them for ratification? What’s that you say? Nanaia didn’t bring Three Waters before Labour’s Caucus for ratification.

What a perfectly marvellous pre-1984 concept: Caucus Power!

No, this massive reform programme was just as likely to have been a Cabinet decision pure and simple. And, if The Daily Blog’s esteemed editor is to be believed, Three Waters wasn’t even Nanaia Mahuta’s idea – not really.

Apparently, the whole thing was dreamt up by David Parker, the Sixth Labour Government’s scary éminence grise. He sold his monstrous plan to Nanaia as the long-sought solution to the vexed issue of Māori and Water. A delighted Nanaia then sold it to her Māori colleagues, who, desperate for any sort of policy win (the latter being rather thin on the ground) seized it with both hands.

Which means that even if the Three Waters plan was brought in front of Labour’s Caucus for ratification, what Pakeha Labour MP in his or her right mind was going to incur the odium of raising “colonialist” objections to the fulfilment of the Crown’s te Tiriti obligations? Nobody – that’s who.

So, assuming that it was indeed the Talented Mr Parker who came up with this plan: to seize the entire drinking, storm and waste water infrastructure of the nation, wrap it up in layer upon layer of legal Kevlar, and then, with the cheapest money taxpayers’ money can borrow, implement the sort of upgrades that generation after generation of cowardly local politicians have considered it more expedient to defer; where’s the problem?

Surely it makes the very best kind of sense to nationalise the whole shebang? Surely, Mr Parker’s four “Entities”, all of them operating under “professional governance”, will manage the three waters for the benefit of the whole community – not just in the interests of the farmers, developers and industrialists who, for more than a century, have run local government as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kiwi Capitalism Incorporated? Surely, what Mr Parker is offering us is Socialism? So, come on Comrades – what’s not to like?

One word, six syllables: Sub-sid-i-ar-it-y.

Never heard of it? Well, yeah, that’s because most of us grew up in New Zealand, not Europe. Subsidiarity is a well understood and respected concept in the nations of the European Union.

Terrific. What does it mean?

According to Wikipedia: “Subsidiarity is an organizing principle [which holds] that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.”

It does not require a Professor of Political Studies to point out the synergies between Subsidiarity and Democracy. If all politics is, ultimately, local, then all democratic politics must have a local component.

Who do you call if your rubbish isn’t collected? The Council.

Who lays on the bus service? The Council.

Who makes sure clean water comes out when you turn the tap? The Council – oh – wait a minute.

Yes, yes, yes, I know: when people turned on their taps in Havelock North the water that came out wasn’t clean. Four people died. Thousands became ill. The locals were enraged. They demanded answers – and clean water. And, guess what: they got both. Subsidiarity and Democracy worked.

If “The Council” hadn’t cleaned up Havelock North’s water, then the voters of Havelock North would have elected themselves another. That’s what Democracy is all about: accountability from the governors because, ultimately, they derive their “just powers” from “the consent of the governed”.

Now, ask yourself, how accountable will these Parker/Mahuta “Entities” be to the people who turn on their taps? Because, let’s be very clear here, no ordinary person gets to vote for any of the people providing “professional governance” for the Three Waters “Entities”. Indeed, the entire system is designed to keep the ordinary person as far away from the people making the decisions as possible.

As currently designed the system works like this: Your vote contributes to the formation of a Council. Your Council’s vote contributes to the formation of a group of people whose job it is to appoint the people who will appoint the people who will run the “Entity”.

So, if there’s a problem with your water, who do you call? Not your Council – that’s for sure. While it may technically “own” the “entity” (or, at least, a part of it) it does not control it. There’s no point in calling the bodies which appoint the people who run the “entity” either, their job is done.

So, where’s the problem? You just call the “Entity”.

Yep, you can do that. It may be headquartered in a city 200 kilometres away. The person at the other end of the phone may never have so much as driven through your town. Complaints may be coming into the call centre you’ve reached every few seconds. So – good luck with that.

What featherbrained bunch of bureaucrats dreamed up this complicated and unaccountable system? The answer, sadly, is bureaucrats who wanted the new Three Waters “Entities” to be able to borrow the billions needed to upgrade our drinking, storm and waste water systems as cheaply as possible. To achieve this, they rang Standard & Poors – the credit-rating agency – and asked them what they needed to do – structure-wise – to get the best deal. The ratings agency (surprise, surprise) told them that the “Entities” had to be sealed-off, hermetically, from the influence and interference of interested parties – i.e. you and me. In the jargon: the Councils and the “Entities” had to have “separate balance sheets”.

Please don’t tell me you’re surprised. That’s how Neoliberalism works. It does all it can to insulate the key economic and social decision-makers from the influence and interference of politicians elected by the people on the receiving-end of those same decision-makers’ resolutions. On the Neoliberal balance sheet, Subsidiarity and Democracy simply do not add up.

Whatever else his Caucus colleagues may discover on the Talented Mr Parker’s “To Do” list, they will not find any plans to introduce Socialism via the water supply.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 October 2021.


Guillaume said...

In most cases, especially in the established cities and towns, the system is more than 100 years old and predictably is creaking a little. Under the neoliberal paradigm, it has been starved of funds for decades. Typically, maintenance, repairs, and upgrades would be a charge to the ratepayers. But the cost of everything has risen exponentially.

It seems that these days central government is living on credit and borrowing without a thought for tomorrow. It is recklessly disbursing these funds on politically motivated projects. $55 million to the media, $150 million to Maori health to promote vaccination – I could go on. For instance, the government recently offered councils 2.5 billion as an inducement to accept the Three Waters scheme.

So, why could the government not help fund the necessary work on local water infrastructure over ten years or more? Such financial assistance would make more sense than a disruptive and costly reorganisation of the entire system.

It is self-evident that councils must better understand local systems and the need for maintenance and upgrading. So who benefits by removing traditional Council functions to a centralised bureaucracy?

One aspect of the Three Waters proposal that has been hardly mentioned is the involvement of tribal Maori. Joint management is the idea with the right of veto on any proposals devolving to the Maori entity. Three Waters is but one feature of the radical He Puapua plan. If undemocratically allowed to go ahead, it will lead to costly exploitation, confusion and ultimately failure.

None of the elements of the He Puapua proposals should progress without the democratic involvement of the eligible population of all stripes.

Tony said...

You unfortunately did not comment on the involvement of iwi in this whole shemozzle. I am sure you can delve into the implications of this.

Anonymous said...

Irrespective of ones calling it could be that the old adage that states that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others.
As one watches and continues to read about this current group of illustrious political bandits continuing to roll this country to a socialistic doom, nothing could be more obvious

John Hurley said...

1. "You councils, you've stuffed up" (exasperated sigh).
2. Solution = centralise. Get cheaper finance.
3. Control 50:50 Iwi and experts.

Given te reo out your ears and all the weird stuff coming from the people who tweet about whiteness it sounds like Recalling Aotearoa.
If Paul Spoonley is involved (or advocating) that's what's happening (or trying to).

Who the hell are Infrastructure NZ (apart from vested interests)? At their level they are happy to partner with Iwi, because they can get everything they want.

Chris Morris said...

Is the 3 Waters Plan really neoliberalism? My distionary defines the word as "a political approach that favours free-market capitalism, deregulation, and reduction in government spending". Now the plan has been called many things, a lot uncomplimentary but I don't think it meets any of the above definition.

Odysseus said...

Neoliberalism? Looks like it. Racially polarizing and divisive? You bet! No responsible government would ever come up with such an anti-democratic scheme and then in the face of widespread rejection threaten to impose it by compulsion. Such a breathtakingly disastrous step for the social fabric of this country.

The Barron said...

An interesting exercise for the readers of Bowalley Road - name your local Council's Deputy Mayor. If you struggle, take into account that those on this Blog are more politically aware than the average bear.

Looking at Three Waters I cannot get away from the starting point - something has to be done after decades of declining infrastructure. The questions are obviously who can do it? and under what framework?

Local Government has so far failed. Indeed, the situation in which the infrastructure has been left to rot has been under local government control. Those on Council are often well meaning and motivated by a sense of civic duty, however, we are also aware that the low turn out can also produce some with ideological agenda. We only need to look to the USA to see how Republicans have stacked State legislators on apathetic turnout. NZ has so far dodged that type of bullet, but the assets and core functions of Local Government are subject to a perilous process. Council housing, especially for the aged was once seen as core Council responsibility, but these were sold off in Auckland with John Banks redefining those core responsibilities.

Councils are sub-Governmental authorities, that is - they carry out duties semi-independently and on behalf of central Government. The autonomy can be checked, and we have seen Commissioners appointed when central Government has viewed Local authorities as dysfunctional.

Projects requiring large investment tend to be populist (e.g. sports stadia) so the rate payers can seethe ego-monument, rather than pipes below the ground - which is difficult to explain to the voter, so deferred. The only way that Councils could maintain and repair, let alone update, the water infrastructure would be with central Government monetary injection. Further, the water quality, delivery and infrastructure is uneven throughout NZ. Councils with a high level of poverty collect less rates and provide less service. By the very structure of local Government, the services can be skewered against need. If we see water as a right, and environmental waste disposal as a shared responsibility, then local Government is not fit for purpose.

To return to my first statement - something has to be done. Whether the 3 Waters proposal is the something, I am hesitant to say. But, in lieu of alternative suggestions it is the only game in town.

Joel said...

You're an idiot.

It will be privatised.

Everything is being centralised so it can be privatised.

greywarbler said...

What a grim fairy tale you tell Mr Trotter.

sumsuch said...

They're laying out their power for shit that don't matter.

David George said...

Another loss of our democratic rights and sacrifice fundamental principles (following the cancellation of petition rights on the structure of local government) would be understandable, even forgivable, if there was any sign Mahuta & Co gave some acknowledgment that those rights and values meant a damn thing to them.

Sometimes the dismissal of foundational principles are justified but, as Jordan Peterson explains, never to be taken lightly.

"If you understand the rules - their necessity, their sacredness, the chaos they keep at bay, how they unite the communities that follow them and the price paid for their establishment and the danger of breaking them - but you are willing to fully shoulder the responsibility of making an exception, because you see it serving a higher good (and if you are a person of sufficient moral character to manage that distinction), then you have served the spirit, rather than the mere law and that is an elevated moral act. But, if you refuse to realise the importance of the rule you are appropriately and inevitably damned."

Barrie Saunders said...

Chris the four entities will uniquely be accountable to no one. Not central or local government. Iwi have the best chance of having influence because of their direct role and indirectly through local government. But even there it will be influence rather than control.

There are real economies of scale which is why some amalgamation makes sense. However all monopolies need need regulators or countervailing pressures as Transpower has with the Electricity Authority and major energy companies.

With no competitors or effective regulators the new operations will undoubtedly be more expensive than present operations unsatisfactory as some are. Costs will be set by major cities not say Gisborne and other provincial centres. Check this out by looking at the salaries of big city ceos versus the provinces.

David George said...

Here's another way to put it, a concept related to the Precautionary principle (AKA Chesterton's fence), from the great conservatives philosopher GK Chesterton:

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

We're seeing, in this reform and elsewhere, our foolishness in casually destroying that which has served us well. Our cultural institutions, even the institution of marriage, under sustained attack with no understanding of their value and the reasons for their instantiation in the culture in the first place. Dangerous times?

David George said...

Small is beautiful.
A couple of instances I was directly involved with:
We were connected to a private water scheme, though no one got sick, testing showed that the aquifer it was drawn from had, at times, failed to reach mandated standards. The scheme was shut down and the local (Far North) council promptly arranged and completed connections to an alternative source. We were kept informed and the change over was completed without fuss. How would we have faired under a bloated Auckland based bureaucracy? Appallingly the above example was used, in the government report, as an excuse to damn our local council when their measures actually solved a problem not of their making.

The building our daughter was renting was twice inundated thanks to an inadequate council storm water system. Prior developments had now made it vulnerable in a deluge. The mayor got himself involved, heads were banged together and the council came up with, completed and funded measures to mitigate the immediate problem. Subsequently storm water upgrades were designed, costed and added to the council budget. A democratically initiated, local solution to a local problem.

I have a couple of similar examples of our elected District Health board members going into bat, and getting results, for people being treated badly by the medical bureaucracy. That local interface is being "put in the bin" as well.

The values of subsidiarity and of democracy are to be subsumed by an impenetrable, remote, unelected, undemocratic, racially biased monster. What the hell are we becoming, I've nothing but contempt for this government.

David George said...

Bryce Edwards (Victoria University) has a good essay on this, including comment from our Chris:

Peter Dunne: the Minister of Local Government has recently said some nice sounding words about the value of local democracy, “actions she and her government have taken since then show not only that the government no interest in working constructively with local government, but also that the Minister’s words were no more than waffling poppycock that cannot be taken seriously”

Heather du Plessis-Allan: “The confiscations might be law this year, but they don’t’ take effect until 2024. But between now and then we have two sets of elections. The local government elections next year, and then the central government elections in 2023. So Mahuta has just given mayoral candidates and council candidates in every single territorial authority something to complain about next year. And they will. And the targets of their complaints will be Mahuta, Labour and confiscation and iwi governance. It cannot be good to have election campaigns up and down New Zealand fought on whether Labour are a ‘revolting pack of thieving liars’ as one councillor said today. So, politically, this feels like a bad idea all round.”

greywarbler said...

What a lot of useful thinking and quoting David George has done here, thank you. Jordan Peterson's words are worthy and Chesterton's also and need to be held as markers in thinking about the suggested change. And HduP-A has made a valid point. The Barron has sense to add to Chris's essay.

I lean to this comment at 8.33:
The values of subsidiarity and of democracy are to be subsumed by an impenetrable, remote, unelected, undemocratic, racially biased monster. What the hell are we becoming, I've nothing but contempt for this government.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I wouldn't presumed to judge the plan given that I haven't read it, but it's not as if councils have done such a brilliant job about clean water so far. Particularly as they are stuffed with people who tend to react positively to pressure from businesses which don't care about clean water, and only care about maintenance if they get a slice of the pie. Still, I guess you get the councils you deserve.

Tom Hunter said...

pressure from businesses which don't care about clean water,

Why don't they care about clean water, GS? Do they not drink it or use it in their businesses?

David George said...

Thank you Grey.

sumsuch said...

I'd be interested in your opinion of the neolib 'Labour' talker on NatRad's Monday morning politics chat's dismissal of party involvement in leader elections.

I always feel slimey after I listen to him. Much like a visit to 'The Standard' -- no, not really, Lprent is much more honest and outright about his affection for the '84 govt.

To be frank, both of them disgust me, their continuance in major influence, to the exclusion of social democrats, who are only ... right.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Of course they use water in their businesses Tom. And then they pollute it and stick it back into the rivers. I guess they don't care about clean water because they rely on the government to purify it for them - after they've made their money from it. Of course not all businesses don't care about clean water, fishing guides usually do. But I suspect they have very little political power compared to farmers. :)

John Hurley said...

John Hurley

Great to see Maori and pakeha forming a breeding pair.

Chris Kahukiwa
Very nasty comment… hope it made you feel better getting that out😔

So I had to explain I was thinking what Ranginui Walker said about problems being solved in the bedroom.
Someone suggested I should choose my words carefully.

In the morning I remembered how in arguing over an issue I caused a stir when I referred to Maori as "ethnic adversaries". We are supposed to meekly nod and see the error of our ways on numerous issues ("well you know this land really does belong to the Palestinians"). Evolution weeded out those who walk over cliffs.

The context of the above is the mainstreaming of Maori activism = divorce.

greywarbler said...

Response to Three Waters concerns.

Three Waters discussion.