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Signals have been sent via local government election results about support for Three Waters (Image: Pexels)
Signals have been sent via local government election results about support for Three Waters (Image: Pexels)

The BulletinOctober 11, 2022

Will Three Waters survive the changing tide?

Signals have been sent via local government election results about support for Three Waters (Image: Pexels)
Signals have been sent via local government election results about support for Three Waters (Image: Pexels)

Opinions are split on whether the reform will hold firm or wash away following local government election results, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in The Bulletin

How many sitting days left to get reform through?

After this weekend’s local government results, most commentators agree signals have been sent about support for some of the government’s key reform programmes, specifically Three Waters. Technically speaking, the government is only inhibited by its own constraints. Peter Dunne recently ran some numbers about how many sitting days the current government has left to get reform through and by his count on September 15, it had 44 days. Very few dispute the need for investment in water infrastructure. A 2021 report found a spend of up to $185b may be required by 2051, with costs of up to $14k a year being passed onto residents without change. Over the last year the issue has become about how that change is executed. It was meant to be voluntary for councils but the government reversed on that in September last year.

A death wish for the government

That’s how new mayor of Nelson, Nick Smith, described Three Waters. The Dunedin council exited a Three Waters opposition group before the election. Outgoing Dunedin mayor Aaron Hawkins lost to Jules Radich and counts himself as a victim of the disgruntlement with proposed government reforms including Three Waters. Three Waters hasn’t been popular since the get-go. Phil Goff, a lifelong Labour man, has mounted a strong case for why it’s not right for Auckland and did so again in his Gone by Lunchtime interview (15 minutes in –yes, I’m linking to this two days in a row, he’s very candid). It’s something Goff and new mayor Wayne Brown agree on.

Co-governance to be thrown under the bus?

Bernard Hickey, in a thumping response to the election results that traverses 30 or so years of political decision-making, thinks co-governance will get thrown under the bus. Expanding on that in a Twitter thread, Hickey wrote: “Three Waters is all about sneaking thru [sic] higher taxes/water charges & higher debt without having to ask voters locally or centrally for permission. Sadly, also now hit with backlash against co-governance, which those who do it/know it have no problem with (Finlayson etc)”. Hickey has recently looked at the Auditor General’s criticism of the bill that would enable the reform.

Why does everyone hate Wellington?

Newsroom has been surveying candidates and support for Three Waters from successful candidates is woeful. Newsroom’s Jo Moir breaks down the lessons Labour and National may take from the weekend and suggests the government may just “ram” Three Waters through, but expects a backdown on other reform. An initial count from the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan in the latest episode of On the Tiles has the three Wellington councils standing alone in their support of Three Waters. Coughlan says the government needs to decide if it wants to spend the next year fighting with local government, or in my own words, sacrifice reform for the relaxation of tension. To end, Newsroom’s Jono Mine lands some salient points about devolution in his (satirically, he assures us) headlined piece Why does everyone hate Wellington?

Keep going!