The Water Services Entities Act became law on 8 December 2022. It is set to transform management of New Zealand’s water infrastructure, but it is unknown how much will actually happen because the 4 centralised management entities aren’t due to be operational until July 2024. The law could well be reversed before then if another party gains power.
It is the first of three bills that make up the suite of controversial reforms known as 3 Waters affecting the control of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater across the country. About a month prior to passage it was expanded to “5 Waters”, with geothermal and coastal water.
Labour was alone in the end and used their majority to pass the legislation, although the Greens and the Māori Party had previously supported the Bill.
Te Pāti Māori opposes 3 Waters
The Māori Party Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer went against the reforms saying they didn’t represent “co-governance” properly and there would be a cost to smaller iwi.
Political commentator Thomas Cranmer writes “Put another way, this is the Tainui model for Three Waters. It benefits the tribal elite at the expense of Māoridom as a whole. Even Te Pāti Māori acknowledges this fact.”
Bryce Edwards further echoes Ngarewa-Packer when he says it isn’t clear whether ordinary Māori and pākehā will benefit from the reduction in democratic control and it is likely to benefit elite interests.
The Green Party opposed the bill’s passing after they failed to have an entrenchment clause against privatisation of the water infrastructure included in the bill.
However, Edwards notes that co governance is a form of privatisation. He writes “The new companies will be half controlled by private organisations – iwi, which are increasingly highly corporate in their business operations.”
In a rebuke of the new law’s co-governance structure, Simon Court of The ACT Party acknowledged the Treaty of Waitangi had a role to play, but laws were the responsibility of Parliament.
National, ACT and NZ First have promised to repeal the reforms.