Bruce Cotterill: Three Waters – where is the outrage? – NZ Herald

OPINION: Cynical late Friday afternoon Three Waters news dump went unreported on TV news.

Source: Bruce Cotterill: Three Waters – where is the outrage? – NZ Herald

KW: this is a double up so you don’t miss any point that’s being made. The maori confiscation of curerntly locally owned assets has beeen extended to include the foreshore and seabed as well. 3 Waters has morphed into 5 Waters and no one is enraged, actually they dont know its even happening but will only find out when they go to their local beach and find Maoris there rattling a tin can for their toll.


Bruce Cotterill: Three Waters – where is the outrage?

19 Nov, 2022 02:00 AM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta have welcomed changes to the Water Services Entities Bill. Photo / File
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta have welcomed changes to the Water Services Entities Bill. Photo / File


Last Friday afternoon, after the deadlines for the Saturday papers and with material for the 6pm news bulletins already well planned, it came. The announcement we all should have wanted to hear. Except that we didn’t.

As any seasoned politician will tell you, Friday afternoon is when you dump unpopular, controversial or just plain bad news.

Despite more than 88,000 of us putting up submissions, few of us were heard. I’m told that less than 400 oral submissions were called.

We’ve all heard the PM and her ministers talk about their willingness to listen to the feedback from people and make changes where appropriate. But in the end these were just words. More words.

And so, last Friday afternoon, the updated report on the Three Waters Bill was presented by the select committee responsible for considering submissions and presenting a revised document.

Just three working days later, on Wednesday evening of this week, a modified Three Waters Bill passed its second reading in the nation’s Parliament.

Even without knowing the contents of the revised bill, haste is something we should be concerned about. It’s a pace of activity that is usually reserved for matters that the Government wants dealt with immediately; either because it is vital for the national interest or it is so unpalatable that they want to shut down the debate as quickly as possible. It would seem that the latter was their only justification.

I’m told by a highly regarded former MP that for a matter of this nature, it’s a pace that is unusually rushed, and in the context of Parliament’s rules, technically inappropriate.

Not that we can do too much about that. Let’s face it, this Government has been in an “inappropriate” hurry on Three Waters from the start. Despite the changes not yet being signed into law, they have already recruited a heap of people and leased high-quality and expensive office space in Auckland at least and possibly elsewhere. Every step has been action ahead of the democratic process.

And so to the modified bill. Note the word modified. Not dramatically altered or materially changed. Modified because despite the more than 88,000 submissions, the great majority of which were heavily against its proposals, there was little change to the provisions of the bill.

Except for one area.

Imagine 88,000 submissions. Ignored. Just think for a moment of the emotion and passion that people had for the End of Life Choice Bill. And yet that received just less than half of the number of submissions that Three Waters did. And those submitters have been ignored.

So what was modified?

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the Three Waters legislation is about the management of freshwater, wastewater and stormwater. However, as result of the select committee’s most recent rewrite, it’s no longer just about Three Waters. You see, they’ve added a couple of new categories. Hydro, the water that flows through New Zealand’s world class and sustainable electricity system is one.

Oh, and they also added another category. Coastal. That’s right folks, the seabed and foreshore is back in play. This time, with the highly controversial and undemocratic co-governance proposals locked in.

And finally, just for good measure, they’ve also seen fit to include, at the eleventh hour, an option to include parks and reserves. Parks and reserves currently owned and operated by the ratepayers through the councils that represent them.

New Zealanders should be upset or even angry. We’re not though. We either don’t know about the changes being proposed, don’t understand what’s going on, or don’t care. I deeply suspect that, if Kiwis understood what was happening we would care very much.

You might think I’m exaggerating for effect. But throughout this week I’ve been talking to people about it. A few of us are quite knowledgeable and highly exercised about what is happening. Then there are plenty of us who know something is happening with Three Waters, but don’t know the detail. And believe it or not there are a lot of people, probably those who get their news and current affairs from their favourite Facebook bubble, who have no idea it is even happening.

We should be ropable that this is happening. And we should be stomping mad that neither of our top-rating TV news channels ran the story of the bill’s passing on their 6pm bulletins on Thursday evening. What the hell is going on here NZ?

This is major constitutional reform, involving the deliberate confiscation of assets from ratepayers and the councils that represent them, to a government and a policy that will be controlled by iwi-based or tribal interests. The consultation process around it has been minimal and most of us would say what little consultation has occurred has been ignored.

The French would have people marching in the streets and tractors blocking the freeways if this was occurring in their country. Not us. Let’s just sit back and let it happen!

I can only imagine that, like many of those I spoke to this week, we don’t really have any idea what is actually going on here. So, for those readers who are interested, here it is in a few simple sentences.

Despite not mentioning it during the 2020 election campaign, the new majority Labour government hit the ground running immediately after the election and launched a plan that would see the Government taking control of the infrastructure and services that deliver all three water assets – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

Despite the fact that, in most parts of the country, our fresh water is among the best in the world, they used a single event in Havelock North a few years ago as an example of what could occur if reform didn’t happen quickly.

Their plan was accompanied by a very expensive and highly misleading advertising campaign telling us that we would have brown sludge coming out of the taps unless the Government took control of the water assets from the councils.

Organisations like The Taxpayers’ Union and Democracy NZ have funded court action which asserts that the minister and her government have acted illegally. That court action is ongoing. Farmers and business owners have banners out the length of the country asking the powers that be to “Stop 3 Waters”.

And yet, despite ever-increasing opposition from a wide cross-section of New Zealanders, the Government has pressed on with its plans. Centralisation of water assets, they say, will occur, just like the already unsuccessful centralisation efforts in Health and Tertiary Education.

As a result, we have the latest steps, as outlined above, that will see Three Waters expanded to Five Waters and maybe even a few Parks.

So we see, finally, after all this time, what Three Waters has been about all along. It’s not about brown sludge coming out of your taps. In fact, it’s not about water at all. It’s about an asset grab of not only the water assets we thought, but also for a slice of our hydro schemes and for the highly contentious foreshore and seabed. By the time the third and final reading comes around, you can bet that the country’s parkland will no longer be an option. It will be included.

Perhaps the inclusion of the foreshore and the parkland will get us animated and angry.

We should be staggered that this legislation, delivering major constitutional change, is sleepwalking its way through Parliament via an aggressive majority government, while it appears that there is nothing that opposition politicians can do about it.

You see, unless New Zealanders do something, I’m guessing that the third and final reading will go much like the second reading this week. A few opposition politicians putting up a brave fight against the tyrannical majority before quietly leaving the stage defeated and deflated.

By the time next year’s election campaign is run, Three Waters final reading will have been completed and this most extraordinary and controversial series of changes will have become law. The assets will be operated by undemocratic Government-appointed boards, and the councils that paid for them will be left out of pocket, and we, the people, will be one step closer to losing our collective democratic voice. Despite overwhelming opposition, Three Waters will be law.

It would be tempting to throw in the towel. And yet, despite everything that has happened, Three Waters should continue to be a central election issue in 2023. Those parties currently in opposition must run a campaign to totally repeal this legislation and if elected they must do so promptly.

And we may as well brace ourselves for it now. Taking things away from people is always much harder than giving them out. Repealing this law will be messy and disruptive and difficult. But it must happen.

That’s why we have elections. When governments become this corrupt, they and the laws they created must go.

Bruce Cotterill is a company director and adviser to business leaders. He is the author of the book, The Best Leaders Don’t Shout

Graham Adams: We need to talk about Jacinda….

It takes a large dollop of brazenness — and perhaps desperation — to deny reality quite as readily as Jacinda Ardern was willing to do last Tuesday, but the Prime Minister did not resile from the task.

When Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper asked her why the three waters (fresh water, storm water and waste water) had suddenly become five waters (with the late addition of coastal and geothermal water) in the amended Water Services Entities Bill, Ardern flatly denied that was the case.

Denying observable facts is typical of very young children before they understand that bending the truth beyond breaking point is an art that requires at least a modicum of plausibility to avoid ending up deeply and shamefully embarrassed.

Ardern’s denial reminded me of a three-year-old niece who, when asked why her name had appeared on the wall of her bedroom written in red crayon, claimed a visiting friend had done it — even while she was clutching a red crayon in her own hand. Her young friend had yet to learn to write.

While this might be seen as an amusingly naive ploy in a child anxious to avoid the consequences of being caught red-handed, such behaviour is plainly alarming in an adult — and especially when that adult happens to be the Prime Minister.

Ardern told Soper — in a strained voice: “The reference [to coastal and geothermal water] in the legislation does not change the scope of Three Waters. It’s only about the drinking water, waste water and storm water.”

Soper: “It extends into coastal and geothermal, if you read the legislation, which I’ve done this morning.”

Ardern replied, with such stilted diction it sounded as if she was reading from a press statement: “I have read the legislation. It does not change its scope… However, I can see, based on your questions, that it has caused, potentially, some confusion. So we’ll ask the drafters whether there’s a way to make it much clearer…”

“So you’re going to have it changed, are you?” Soper asked.

Ardern: “No, [I’m] just going to ask the question whether or not it could be drafted with more clarity because it’s obviously created some confusion.”

In fact, the clause Soper was referring to is perfectly clear. Confusion has only arisen because the Prime Minister decided to argue black was white.

Her attempt to blame Parliament’s legal staff alongside disputing a common-sense reading of a clause smacks of desperation, no doubt because she knows her government is in deep trouble over its underhand move to fulfil Māori aspirations to control all the water in and around New Zealand — via granting iwi the exclusive right to issue Te Mana o te Wai statements that are binding on the four Water Service Entities.

Helping achieve this aim by quietly slipping a highly contentious amendment into a bill that was shortly to have its second reading — and after public submissions had closed and been considered — has to be ranked as one of the most deeply cynical and dishonest manoeuvres in the history of modern New Zealand politics.

Yet, even after her government had been caught out in such a dishonourable move to extend the bill’s coverage beyond three waters, the Prime Minister was keen to pretend it hadn’t actually happened.

As Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan put it to The Country’s host Jamie Mackay: “This is a new thing [the government] is doing. They just deflect and pretend it’s not a fact. So it’s the three waters already and then they chucked into the legislation — which is available online for anybody to read — geothermal and coastal, which makes it five waters, doesn’t it?”

Mackay: “Yeah, it’s five waters by my count. With [the seabed and] foreshore coming back to bite us on the backside.”

By denying that adding coastal and geothermal water will boost the number of categories of water covered by the bill to five, Ardern was gaslighting the nation in a way that makes a quote from George Orwell’s 1984 entirely apposite: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

The Prime Minister has always had difficulty dealing straightforwardly with dissent or criticism and is clearly allergic to admitting she is wrong — let alone getting around to apologising. She is also not above making stuff up to defend the indefensible.

However, denying that a clause in legislation means what any reasonably intelligent person — or lawyer — would accept its meaning to be is a new and worrying expression of that deep character flaw.

One of the more bizarre tactics she has employed to ward off criticism during her five-year tenure is accusing opposition MPs of “politicking” or “playing politics” — as she has done when debating issues such as co-governance with iwi or the management of Covid.

When you are immersed in the business of politics, as she is, accusing others of “politicking” is absurd — yet she does it without any apparent awareness of how risible it is.

Ardern certainly didn’t welcome Soper’s impertinence in pointing out what are undeniable facts in the amended legislation. Quite possibly she thought it was an example of a journalist “politicking”.

In an essay on free speech published last month, former District Court judge David Harvey assessed the Prime Minister’s character: “Ms Ardern is possessed of a high sense of the righteousness of her cause. She does not debate ideas. She rejects them or refutes the premises of opposition without engaging in debate. She therefore avoids confronting the uncomfortable reality that she may be wrong. And by rejecting and refuting she adopts an air of superiority that views dissent as evil.”

Ardern’s self-righteousness and propensity to bend the truth into weird and unaccustomed shapes was, of course, signalled early in her tenure as the leader of the Labour Party.

During one of the leaders’ debates in 2017, when moderator Patrick Gower asked what she would do if she were to be “caught in a lie or caught intentionally misleading the New Zealand public”, Ardern piously replied, “Politicians make mistakes but a true mark of leadership is whether you front those mistakes [and] be as transparent as possible with the public when you make them.”

She also said she believed “it is possible to exist in politics without lying”, and claimed she’d never told a lie in politics.

Only someone with a high degree of self-regard and self-delusion could say anything quite that preposterous with a straight face and expect not to be jeered at but Ardern believes so deeply in her own goodness she managed to carry it off.

Some of the audience actually clapped — presumably believing they were in the presence of a latter-day saint who had a miraculous ability to float above the tawdry, everyday business of politics.

To so outrageously deny political reality — and human nature — was, however, a step too far for then Prime Minister Bill English. When he was asked the same question about the possibility of surviving in politics without lying, he couldn’t in all honesty agree.

When you ride a very high horse, as the Prime Minister does, falling off can be painful and spectacular.

As the wheels of her government continue to wobble alarmingly — as they are in education, health, crime, and cost of living, to name just a few of the disasters Ardern is presiding over — watching how she reacts to the relentless criticism inevitable in an election year will bring its own horrified fascination, both for supporters and opponents alike.

If her bizarre burst of laughter last month when a journalist asked about the “hiding” Labour had taken at the local body elections and now her denying the obvious, common-sense interpretation of a legislative clause is any guide, the year ahead is going to be quite a ride for those who follow the Prime Minister’s fortunes.

Graham Adams is a freelance editor, journalist and columnist. He lives on Auckland’s North Shore. This piece was first published at The Platform