THE ORIGINAL ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN for Nanaia Mahuta’s “Three Waters” project was surprisingly honest. Not in terms of the information it communicated to the public, which was, at best, misleading; and, at worst, shamefully propagandistic. In terms of what they wanted the public to believe, however, the promoters of Three Waters could not have been more transparent. New Zealand’s rivers and streams were awash with poo. Councils had failed their electors. Fixing up the water would be eye-wateringly expensive. Radical remedies were the only answer.
None of these frightening propositions were true.
New Zealand’s rivers and streams had come under increased pressure as the country’s dairy herd expanded rapidly in the first two decades of the Twenty-First Century. The solution to this problem, however, lay not with a radical restructuring of New Zealand’s drinking, waste and stormwater infrastructure, but in improving the livestock management of the nation’s diary-farmers. As is so often the case, New Zealand’s farmers rose to this challenge. Access to waterways was fenced-off and riparian planting helped to filter farm run-off.
Not that this has prevented the Government’s supporters from characterising New Zealand farms as open sewers. Seemingly, ten million cows are only able to relieve themselves in bodies of running water. What actually happens, of course, is that cows, like most mammals, defecate on what lies immediately beneath their rear ends. For the vast majority of this country’s 4.9 million cows (the size of the New Zealand dairy herd has never exceeded 6.5 million and is steadily decreasing) what lies beneath their haunches are good, old-fashioned, New Zealand paddocks, which actually benefit from the breaking down of cow-pats into top-soil. Dangerous nitrate run-off is as much an artificial fertiliser problem as it is a cow-pee problem.
None of these facts mattered. New Zealanders were supposed to believe that every time they quenched their thirst with a glass of water they were swallowing shit. Not only that, but the task of fixing their drinking water was now beyond the financial resources of their local council. Worse still, many local authorities’ century-old-plus sewage and stormwater infrastructure was failing and in urgent need of repairs and/or replacements they could not afford.
This “the country can’t afford it” catch-cry was critical to the shape of the Three Waters project. New Zealand’s neoliberal state ideology is violently allergic to the public-funding and ownership of critical infrastructure. Treasury’s preference is to have local government bear the costs of renewal – either by raising rates, or borrowing. Unfortunately, local government’s credit is fast running out.
Rather than have the New Zealand state stand in the market for the finance required to upgrade New Zealand’s drinking, waste and stormwater systems – which it could borrow at by far the most favourable interest rates – successive governments have been advised to create a new stand-alone entity, or entities, and have it/them borrow the needed money. To reassure the lenders that their returns are secure, those same advisers have made it crystal clear that said entities must be absolutely impervious to all forms of democratic interference. While it might be politically wise to reassure voters that their councils still “owned” their three waters infrastructure, under no circumstances could local authorities be permitted to control it.
It was precisely this separation of ownership from control (control being central to the whole concept of ownership) that caused the Auditor-General to present such a strong critique of the Three Waters project – as currently conceived.
But, ownership and control are not only concepts crucial to the value and utility of tangible assets – private as well as public – they are also crucial to Māori concept of tino rangatiratanga – Māori sovereignty. It is at the intersection of these two key concepts that the deepest and most difficult problems of Three Waters arise.
Iwi authorities have seized upon the credit-rating agencies’ insistence that the proposed Three Waters entities be sealed-off from democratic interference, to fashion a governance structure favourable to themselves, from which the Pakeha majority is excluded, and which enables Iwi to release revenue streams that the (for once powerless) Pakeha state cannot dam. A bold plan, but one which Iwi could not reasonably have expected their Pakeha compatriots to simply wave on through.
Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of any group other than the present collection of political actors who would have taken such risks to see the Three Waters project implemented. Labour has the largest Māori caucus in its history, ably co-led by Nanaia Mahuta and Willie Jackson. Labour itself commands an absolute majority in the House of Representatives and, like their Green ally, its leaders are ideologically committed to the judicially contrived and academically elaborated concepts of “partnership” and “co-governance”. Without the staunchness of the Māori caucus, and the “wokeness” of Labour and Green MPs, Three Waters would never have got off the ground.
There are those on the Left who argue that this fortuitous aggregation of Māori activists and their progressive Labour allies is the direct result of Helen Clark’s legislative rejection of the Court of Appeal’s Foreshore & Seabed judgement back in 2004. The three dominant players in the Sixth Labour Government: Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins; are depicted as shocked and unwilling accomplices in the Clark Government’s unconscionable theft of the Foreshore & Seabed. Eighteen years later, at the summit of the Pakeha state, these three are determined to have no repeat of the racist travesty they were forced to live through in 2004. This time, Labour will not let the Māori lose.
Stirring stuff! But if the so-called “Sharma Drama” has taught us anything, it is that the political culture of the post-Rogernomics Labour Party simply does not produce politicians of such mettlesome quality. For those who were following politics closely back in 2004, Tariana Turia’s resignation from the Labour Party appeared to inspire the same cold fury as Gaurav Sharma’s “treachery”. Loyalty trumps all other considerations in Labour: has done since the party split apart with such destructive acrimony in 1989. Had Ardern, Robertson and Hipkins felt the shame of 2004 as keenly as some on the Left suggest, they would have resigned alongside Turia and, like the fast disintegrating Alliance, done all they could to help her get the Māori Party up and running.
Equally untrue is the proposition that Labour’s inadvertent creation of the Māori Party kept it out of office for nine years. At no time did Māori Party MPs constitute the difference between a National and a Labour government. Between 2008 and 2014 Labour’s parliamentary numbers were so low that had all the Māori Party MPs defected to the Opposition, the National Government would have continued to govern with the support of Act.
The durability of the Three Waters Project is not the product of Labour heroism, but of 18 years of Crown-Iwi collaboration and compromise. Eighteen years of hard academic yakka in the fields of law, medicine, sociology, anthropology and history. Eighteen years of positive discrimination in the public service, the news media and the arts.
In sum, Three Waters is the culmination of a grand intellectual pincer movement. On the one hand, an immeasurably stronger alliance of Iwi-controlled institutions; on the other, a state no longer capable of dismissing Māori leaders as “haters and wreckers” – or, apparently, saying “No.” Squeezed between these two, is the Pakeha nation.
That was the core message embedded in the initial Three Waters advertising campaign. Māori New Zealand was telling Pakeha New Zealand:
“You can’t stop this.”
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 25 August 2022.
This matter has a long way to run. There is increasing anger and dismay in communities throughout the country at the dismissive and frankly thuggish way in which Mahuta and Labour are ramming this legislation through. Nor is there a monolithic Maori view - some smaller groups are angry their voices will be lost amid the proposed new mega-entities which favour tribal corporations. The question of who exactly Mana Whenua (a non Maori concept as the Waitangi Tribunal has pointed out) are in any given region is in itself not always clear.
At its heart of course Labour's 3 Waters project is about the control of fresh water which, for a country still heavily dependent on agricultural exports, is a critical, visceral concern. If the government refuses to listen to the reasonable arguments that are being expressed about ownership and control, including by our largest city, Auckland, they may well provoke protest and disorder on a scale not seen since 1981. The electoral consequences could see in the destruction of the Labour Party itself.
Excellent news Chris. :) For all their faults, I'd much sooner have Maori in charge of our water supply than – for instance the Hawke's Bay people who managed to cause how many deaths and thousands of cases of illness?
Have I libelled the Hawke's Bay people? Perhaps it would be better to say "were in charge when there were thousands of cases of illness and a number of deaths."
'Rather than have the New Zealand state stand in the market for the finance required to upgrade New Zealand’s drinking, waste and stormwater systems – which it could borrow at by far the most favourable interest rates – successive governments have been advised to create a new stand-alone entity, or entities, and have it/them borrow the needed money.'
Bernard Hickey expands on the Labour-National horror of state funding of infrastructure:
“The government should have been up front about its strategy of trying to engineer a tax increase and higher debt onto the nation’s public water infrastructure from the start. Now the reform is mired, unfortunately, in a backlash over co-governance, which is not the real reason for the reforms….
“Three Waters was a clever way for central government to essentially circumvent the bi-partisan ’30/30′ consensus that has dominated our political and economic settings for thirty years. That is:
taxes won’t be raised or new taxes introduced in a way that means government revenues are more than 30% of GDP; and central and local government won’t raise long term net debt levels beyond 30% of GDP.
“That 30/30 consensus meant government and councils under-invested in water, transport, health, education and other infrastructure to the tune of about $100b over the last 30 years, and will need to invest another $100b over the next 30 years just to keep up with forecast population growth. That $200b of infrastructure spending over the next 30 years would require breaking one or both of those 30/30 rules. The alternative is much heavier “demand management” tools such as congestion charges, water charges and other forms of user pays that effectively become tax increases.”
We all now know the what but do we really know the why?
The people driving this, mahuta and jackson, are hardly disadvantaged maori in any sense of the word and we have seen historically that trickle down of iwi settlements has hardly been a flood. So again I ask why?
Is it to prove a point, based on an imagined principle or just a hatred of everyone else? Those with all european heritage, those not maori enough, those not woke or those not labour. The complete fallacy of the "partnership" of the treaty of Waitangi definitely forms a basis for the arguments around this and certainly not quality of water.
I was always naive enough to believe that a government should seek a mandate from the people. There is no mandate for this or any or the latest governments actions so is democracy already dead, or just being quietly throttled?
Winston's speech - but did the MSM report it?
Bang-on in every respect.
Quote: "There are those on the Left who argue that this fortuitous aggregation of Māori activists and their progressive Labour allies is the direct result of Helen Clark’s legislative rejection of the Court of Appeal’s Foreshore & Seabed judgement back in 2004. The three dominant players in the Sixth Labour Government: Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins; are depicted as shocked and unwilling accomplices in the Clark Government’s unconscionable theft of the Foreshore & Seabed"
My mind turns here to Bomber in particular. Martyn didn't publish my response to his Daily Blog post ... so I'll place it here, if I may ... as you'll see, it's pertinent to your post:
Bomber (Quote): "Punters fail to understand the full impact of Helen Clark’s Seabed and Foreshore land confiscation on the Left. Here was a cherished Labour leader who was confiscating Māori land rights to pacify the rednecks of NZ"
Here was my (unpublished) response:
If they were "rednecks" then not only the vast majority of non-Mâori but also a clear majority of Mâori themselves must be accorded that (very dodgy) label ... You'll find, Bomber, that the Polls of the era suggested very little support for the notion that the legislation deprived Mâori of rights ... a UMR Research poll from Dec 04, for example, found just 7% of non-Mâori & only a third of Mâori themselves agreed that the Seabed and Foreshore legislation "deprives Mâori of rights they should have".
An overwhelming 84% of non-Mâori and a significant 58% of Mâori believed that the legislation either (1) struck a good balance or that it (2) actually gave Mâori special rights they shouldn't have had.
Chris - well said. When you first suggested last year that 3 waters would become an election issue - I thought you were delusional. However, Labour has mismanaged (or deliberately manipulated as you suggest) this so comprehensively, that what was, at first glance, an issue of water-pipes has now morphed into one of equal rights. Who would have thought... that the 'great unwashed' would ever resent a dilution of their water rights? Certainly not the Wellington beltway elite who run this 'ship of fools'.
As a scientific professional in the water industry for the last 32 yrs I support 3 Waters. Why? Two examples. I worked for local government for most of this time and I saw time and time again where budgets for wastewater water supply and stormwater were slashed to keep rates increases low or to effectively divert funds to sexy projects like convention centres. In Christchurch I saw blatant political interference in the water pipeline consultation process where a good outcome was subverted by a senior councillor for an alternative that was never going to get consent and due to civil works inflation caused Chrustchyrch ratepayers a massive bill to build the proper option once the councillors folly was rejected by the Commissioners. Ironically if the old 2 waters Christchurch Drainage Board had been in charge, no e of this debacle would have occurred. 2. My parents lived in the Hokianga where a local two pond sewage treatment plant serves Omapere and Opononi. It works fine serving a few hundred permant resident but is inadequate to serve the summer population. The cost of the necessary plant and the co.peting interests of the wealthier eastern parts of the FNDC. So the matter just drags on and on to the anger of the mainly poor maori locals.
3 Waters isnt perfect and its promtion has been inept but it has tohapoen
At last – some sense from someone who knows what they are actually talking about – thank you Andrew Nichols.
The government's wide-ranging proposals for our waste, storm and drinking water's future are unnecessarily complex. Unsurprisingly, they have become highly politicized and contentious.
The central issue in question, relating principally to the provision of drinking water, is simpler. It arises from the current flawed and expensive Council-controlled engineering, financial and administrative management.
Plans to dismember and revolutionize existing future water supply and delivery ... and contrary to what is being said,to also find the funding of water infrastructure, is a case of "if it ain't broke, don't try and fix it".
To directly and simply address the ills of the current structure, the government needs only to follow its own example of the reduction of 20 DHB's down to a mere 4 supranational health provider entities.
Similarly, four regional water supply companies can bring economies and efficiencies to the drinking water supplies by replacing the existing army of many non-specialist Council staff, with fully qualified water sector experts.
Engineering, operational and management personnel operating within four geographically New Zealand-wide "Water" entities can fill the bill without the need for the massive disruption and complexity of the existing plans.
Quote: "Behind us lies the old society of colonial New Zealand. A society based upon assumptions of racial superiority. A society founded upon the dispossession of the Māori. A society riven by multiple inequities and injustices. Ahead of us lies Aotearoa – the new bi-cultural nation in which a “partnership of the races” will expunge the inequities and injustices of our racist past" Unquote.
Do the bigots seriously believe that they can hold to the historic position of white dominance while contemporaneously rejecting a future Aotearoa as a bi-cultural nation?
Will the centralisation of water decision making to a large bureaucracy based in Wellington give better outcomes for most New Zealanders? I doubt it.
If I was designing a governance structure to ensure a bloated Wellington bureaucracy was operating as efficiently as possible would it be the Government's proposed option? No.
Come clean Prime Minister, what is the real objective here?
Here is a very good analysis of the three waters issue and it's implications from Anthony Willy, barrister and solicitor.
He has served as a judge on four courts: district, environment, tax, and valuation. He is a former lecturer in law at Canterbury University and presently an arbitrator, commercial mediator and Resource Management Act commissioner.
Excerpt Re LGNZ:
"Against this background LGNZ’s predilection for all things Maori is captured by its stated concern that “only 13.5% of Mayors Councillors and other elected members are Maori” The fact that this almost exactly in line with the percentage of New Zealanders who identify as having some Maori genes does not appear to have occurred to those who manage LGNZ. To the contrary they say more Maori members will bring to the Councils “knowledge of iwi and Hapu stories networks and connections, (sic that) existing models of co – design (whatever that is) and co – governance draw from.” None of which has anything to do with the engineering requirements of the delivery of the three waters services.
There will of course be many New Zealanders having Maori genes who must look askance at this assault on democracy and the Rule of Law – citizens who by virtue of marriage into modern New Zealand society and their exposure over a prolonged period to what by any standards is an advance way of life. These citizens can and do make an important contribution to the three highly technical engineering areas. Anecdotal evidence is that they are left wondering what a few maori genes can contribute to the efficiency of these specialist area other than their own hard work and contributions. Such citizens accept their integration into New Zealand society and welcome it as it is and not as it was pre-1840.
Given that this should be blindingly obvious to any thinking person whose only agenda is said to be the betterment of New Zealand society and the advancement of democracy at the local body level it is difficult to understand why LGNZ has embarked on a course which is destructive of democracy on so many fronts including their rather pathetic instructions to voters how to cast their votes at the forthcoming local body elections in order to avoid hurting the feelings of minorities.
Given that the three waters proposals involve the greatest government theft of private property and destruction of local body democracy in our history all of which is contrary to its aims and objects what can explain LGNZ’s supine support for the three waters scheme. Can it be that this body which has become the beneficiary of a massive increase in taxpayer funding on the model of the Media hand out that this public largess has strings attached. (one does not bite the hand that feeds you."
Engineering, operational and management personnel operating within four geographically New Zealand-wide "Water" entities can fill the bill without the need for the massive disruption and complexity of the existing plans."
Yeah right. As someone who has had a number of dealings with Wellington water over the last few years, and I will say right away that there are some really good people there, and of course one or two arseholes, the solution isn't quite as simple as that. Most of New Zealand's water infrastructure is ancient. Most of the stuff that is done to it is no more than temporary patching. Much of it simply needs replacing, but I doubt if any neoliberal government – labour or national – is going to be willing to put the money into the infrastructure necessary.
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