Tide turns on three waters plan
Nothing has gone right with the government's proposal to centralise water infrastructure and a revolt by local leaders is growing
Mōrena and welcome to The Bulletin for Friday, October 1, by Justin Giovannetti. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: The future of Auckland’s border; a record Covid day in Victoria; a Marokopa family is safe; but first, a backlash against the three waters programme.
The government’s three waters plan is facing a growing revolt from councils. The idea is simple enough: take the 67 council-controlled authorities responsible for managing drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the three waters) and merge them into four big regional entities. The government says it’ll increase water management standards and save households thousands in reduced rates over the coming decades. But as RNZ reports, councils from Auckland to Invercargill are lining up in opposition. Only six have endorsed the proposal and council submissions to government closed yesterday.
A number of mayors are actually quite upset with the proposal. Matamata-Piako mayor Ash Tanner spoke with Newshub and he was angry, unironically calling the plan “crap” and ordering authorities to “back off”. The relationship between local government minister Nanaia Mahuta and councils got off to a rocky start when the Beehive ran a glitzy ad campaign, voiced by actress Rachel House, that claimed the current water networks were being mishandled. Some mayors were steamed by seeing animated sludge coming out of their similarly cartoonish pipes on television.
Most of the moves by government have only made the situation worse. The government never quite apologised for the ad campaign and some versions of it are still running. Then it offered councils $2.5 billion in exchange for a significant chunk of their asset base. In comparison to what’s been offered, the national water network is expected to need up to $185 billion for repairs over the next three decades. While councils would lose the liability, they also lose the revenues and assets. It’s such a large transaction that it might undermine the financial viability of some councils. According to the NZ Herald, Kaikōura has been warned it might not be able to exist once the value of its pipes is taken off its books.
Finally, the four big regional authorities would muscle councils and mayors out of the water business completely. The boundaries of the entities also don’t correspond to regional identities or problems. Auckland doesn’t want to lose Watercare, while Wellington doesn’t want to get lumped in with Nelson and Gisborne. Based on how the capital’s water system is faring, you’d think the feeling would be mutual but Nelson’s mayor is one of the few to back the proposal.
The next move rests with the government. Mahuta made it clear at parliament this week that she intends to push on with three waters, in spite of opposition. At question time yesterday, she said that there is “near universal agreement that the status quo is not sustainable”. The opposition howled. The minister has generally sidestepped questions about council opposition, instead repeating that the package will make the systems better for everyone. She conceded yesterday that some councils have raised concerns about subsidising their neighbours in the future, but said they shouldn’t be worried because the large entities will have “better capital asset management”. Since the carrot seems to have failed to sway local representatives, the minister has not ruled out forcing the change on councils despite their opposition. As the Nelson Mail reports, there have been complaints that the government's drive to centralise locally-owned systems is just "not the New Zealand way".
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Auckland border likely to remain if alert level shifts. The prime minister signalled yesterday that there is a “high likelihood” that the ring around the country’s largest city will remain through next week’s school holidays if Auckland moves down to level two. Jacinda Ardern’s comments were in The Spinoff's live updates along with details on the 19 new community cases yesterday, including a student at Mangatangi School in upper Hauraki. Central to cabinet’s review of Auckland’s alert level on Monday will be the 15 cases detected over the past fortnight that can’t be linked to other known infections, a sign that delta is still spreading through the city.
The Covid numbers: 18 new community cases were reported yesterday in Auckland and 1 in Waikato. 44% (20) of the previous day’s total were in the community while infectious. There are now 257 active cases. 40,874 people were vaccinated on Wednesday, of which 66% were second doses.
The Spinoff’s Covid data tracker has the latest figures.
Victoria sets a daily record number of new case. ABC reports that authorities in the Australian state say illegal gatherings and house parties during the recent AFL final weekend led to the 1,438 cases reported yesterday. Nearly one-third of the cases have been linked to parties. It was the second highest daily toll yet in Australia’s pandemic, after New South Wales posted a slightly worse day early last month. Premier Daniel Andrews, speaking with more than a hint of frustration yesterday morning, said most of the infections were “completely avoidable”. Despite a near immediate lockdown, the state’s cases have soared due to delta. Jacinda Ardern’s chief science advisor Tweeted out a graph with Australia’s outbreak yesterday. Victoria is on her mind.
In a needed moment of relief, a missing Marokopa family is safe. A dad and his three children, aged 5, 6 and 8, spent three weeks camping in dense Waikato bush, RNZ reports. While the father was an experienced bushman according to police, it’s still unclear exactly what happened during those weeks, what they ate and why it happened at all. Despite intensive local search and rescue efforts, the four just walked out of the bush yesterday and returned to the family farm. The local community wants answers after what it describes as “17 days of hell” wondering what had happened to the children. Police are trying to figure it out.
The reserve bank is looking at creating a digital coin for New Zealand. The spread of digital currencies overseas could one day replace New Zealand dollars in everyday use and that’s a real problem for the country, Stuff reports. To act as the guardian of the economy, the central bank needs to control how much cash is out there, which is a problem if we all start using social media bucks. While it’s still in the early phase, the idea is that people could keep digital dollars in their digital wallets which could be more easily traded than the money, presumably, sitting in your bank account. The placeholder name is “central bank digital currency”. May we suggest ghost chips?
A supreme court ruling on seabed mining off Taranaki has everyone claiming victory. Local iwi says the proposal has been effectively killed off by yesterday's decision, but the company behind the plan says it now has a pathway for re-approval, according to Stuff. The court ended the company’s consents to pump 50 million tonnes of iron sand from the seabed annually, but sent the decision on future mining back to the environmental protection authority. The court ruled that any decision needs to look closely at the impact on marine mammals and seabirds. Environmentalists want the entire industry banned from New Zealand waters.
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The king of the slam himself. (Tina Tiller)
Right now on The Spinoff: Stewart Sowman-Lund provides a brief history of all the things Mark Richardson has slammed over five years on the AM Show. Bernard Hickey looks at the coming legal showdown around mandatory vaccines in the workplace. Anna Rawhiti-Connell responds to Sir John Key and finds that vaccine vouchers won't be enough. Madeleine Chapman loves a nice handwritten letter and makes the case for sending more. Justin Latif reports that Police Ten 7 is now changing and speaks with the Auckland councillor who made it happen.
For a longer read: Today (Sept. 30 across the date line) is Canada’s first national day for truth and reconciliation. The country’s new annual holiday was created only earlier this year after hundreds of unmarked graves were found near remote schools, now closed, that once housed indigenous children. The discoveries shocked the country and flags remain at half-mast indefinitely. The national day is meant to reflect on the country’s history of mistreatment of indigenous peoples and the lasting trauma created by the residential school system. CBC has written about the day.
The All Blacks have made tweaks before Saturday’s match against South Africa. While New Zealand won last weekend’s game, at 19-17 it was a close fought battle and they need to do better this week. With the return of Anton Lienert-Brown from injury and Luke Jacobson from illness, a number of players have been shifted around according to RNZ. The team wants to end the Rugby Championship on a high note before it heads to the US and Europe in the coming weeks.
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