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Council votes to join Three Waters opposition group

Masterton District Council has voted to join a group opposing the Government’s Three Waters reforms.

A notice of motion by councillor Tina Nixon to join Communities 4 Local Democracy was supported by all councillors except Gary Caffell, Chris Peterson, and Tim Nelson.

Mayor Lyn Patterson, who was appointed to the Government’s Three Waters working group, abstained from the vote due to the conflict of interest.

Twenty-nine councils have joined the partnership which is working to find alternative solutions to the proposed Three Waters reforms.

Nixon, who believes water reforms are needed, said joining the partnership was a chance for Masterton District Council to work together with other councils to find alternative models to what the Government was proposing.

Councillors who supported the proposal noted they had not received answers from the Department of Internal Affairs [DIA] on key questions they had on the reforms.

These questions were submitted to DIA on September 30 last year.

The DIA signalled last week that a large number of questions from local councils were currently being worked through.

Nixon said she had no faith there would be a timely response to any questions and believed “we have to join the group with the loudest voice, which is this one”.

Council chief executive David Hopman advised councillors against formally opposing Three Waters until questions were answered.

He was expecting DIA answers “in a few weeks”, he said.

“My recommendation to councillors is let’s wait for information coming in the next few weeks.

“Let’s know what we are saying no to first.”

Councillor Tim Nelson, who opposed joining the Communities 4 Local Democracy, said many presentations to the council supported the benefits of the Government’s proposed reforms and said the current system “is not working”.

The Government will put forward legislation mid-year for New Zealand’s three water services – drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater – to be managed by four new publicly owned water entities, replacing the services managed by 67 councils.

Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta said the reforms would ensure all New Zealanders could enjoy safe, affordable, and sustainable drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater services.

Masterton councillor Chris Peterson supported the “holistic approach” the Government was taking in its reforms and voted against joining the opposition group.

“Local government has been lobbying and won some concessions from the Government.

“One such is the committee our mayor is on.

“The concerns are already in hand and the Government has given their commitment to hear all and evaluate all options.”

Councillor Gary Caffell said he was initially opposed to the Government’s reforms but public opinion had put him “in two minds”.

“The Government has handled this very badly and we need to take a stand,” he said.

“We haven’t consulted the community to ask what they want. I’m sitting on the fence with this one.”

Councillor Bex Johnson, who seconded Nixon’s notice of motion, said some councillors had already signed a memorandum of understanding with Communities 4 Local Democracy individually.

Johnson, Nixon, and councillor David Holmes indicated they had done so.

As a partner council, Masterton District Council will pay $15,000 to the campaign fund.

The Communities 4 Local Democracy group was also discussed at South Wairarapa District Council on Wednesday, but councillors decided to hold off on joining until they heard back on questions they had asked DIA.

South Wairarapa councillors expressed concern regarding a lack of robust information which had prevented them from engaging meaningfully with ratepayers and residents.

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen said the council should facilitate a public debate that would cover “every facet” of the Three Waters Reforms.

A DIA spokesperson said the Three Waters reforms would be progressed through a suite of legislation this year.

“This will include a period for public submissions during the Select Committee process.

“We anticipate the first piece of legislation will be introduced to Parliament in the middle of 2022, following consideration of the findings of the Governance, Representation and Accountability Working Group.

“The Government released an exposure draft of this legislation last year to support the working group in its considerations of these elements of the reforms.

“This first bill relates to the structure of the entities, including governance, representation, accountability and ownership provisions.

“The bill will also contain the protections against future privatisation.” — NZLDR

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