Thursday, March 10, 2022

Pssst ... don't mention the iwi

From disgrace to sham to travesty and back again – that pretty much sums up the Three Waters project so far.  (I won’t use the government’s preferred term “reform”, because reform means a change for the better.)

When it became clear last year that Nanaia Mahuta’s pet ideological project faced concerted opposition across a broad front, the government sought to defuse it by setting up an “independent working group” to review the proposed governance arrangements.

The working group’s report is now in, and it has justifiably been slammed for merely tinkering at the edges – hardly surprising, given that the group was stacked with iwi representatives and people broadly sympathetic to the government. (One example is my own mayor, Lyn Patterson, a reliable friend of Labour who told the Wairarapa Times-Age that the report addresses local government’s concerns. Yet her own council recently joined 29 others in opposing Three Waters and looking at alternative proposals.)

The working group’s most significant recommendation is for a restructuring of shareholding arrangements in the proposed governance structure, in the hope this will create an illusion of greater accountability and so mollify opponents – among them, Auckland mayor and former Labour cabinet minister Phil Goff, who is standing firm despite having been on the working party. (Question: if the recommendations didn’t even satisfy one of the group’s own members, why should the rest of us be convinced?)

To appease those who complain that the existing proposals don’t allow sufficient input for local voices, the working party proposes to strengthen the roles of regional representative groups (RRGs) by creating advisory groups (sub-RRGs – I kid you not) that would “feed into the larger body”. So an already opaque and unwieldy governance structure would become still more opaque and unwieldy, and local voices would be safely submerged and rendered impotent.  The Labour Party is very good at this sort of thing, preferring to place its faith in big government rather than allow local democracy to get in the way.

The report also seeks to divert attention away from crucial governance issues to the supposed risk of privatisation of water, which my former colleague Barrie Saunders rightly dismisses as a red herring. Amid all the debate of the past few months, the fear of privatisation has hardly been raised at all.

Most significantly, the working group ignores the elephant in the room (or should I say the taniwha in the whare). The shibboleth of 50-50 Treaty partnership remains central to the project. The report does nothing to address concerns that Three Waters, as it stands, would represent a massive transfer of power and control to unelected and unaccountable iwi interests.

In the longer term that raises profound constitutional implications, because Three Waters could serve as a test run for implementing a radical re-interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. If the government gets away with it, we should expect the principle of 50-50 co-governance to be extended into other spheres of government.

Already we’re seeing parallel Maori governance structures taking shape in health and education. The Three Waters project will take that a step further. No one should be in any doubt that what’s underway is nothing less than a subversion of democratic principles and a jettisoning of the notion that all citizens enjoy equal rights.

Interestingly, media coverage of the working group’s report – or at least what I’ve seen and heard of it – has deftly skirted around the crucial issue of tribal influence in the Three Waters project by the simple expedient of not referring to it at all. To paraphrase Basil Fawlty, it’s a case of “Don’t mention the iwi”.

Conspiracy theorists are likely to see this as further evidence of the government’s influence over the media via the Public Interest Journalism Fund – and who can blame them? That’s the type of suspicion media outlets inevitably invite when they line up to take the taxpayers’ money on terms dictated by the government, central among which is the insistence on recognition of arbitrarily defined Treaty rights.

Throughout this exercise, a persistent issue has been lack of transparency. At every step along the way, the government has seemed determined to (pardon the pun) muddy the waters.

A good example is the diagram purporting to show how the governance of Three Waters will work, which is a triumph of obfuscation. I defy anyone to make sense of it. There has to be a reason why it’s so convoluted, and I believe that reason is to disguise where true power and control will reside.

The public still has no idea who came up with the idea of four regional “water service entities” – whose territories just happened to be aligned with tribal boundaries – or what the rationale was. That part of the exercise appears to have taken place out of the public view. It emerged fully formed, without public consultation.

In place of transparency, the government has tried hyperbole, disinformation and scaremongering – witness the infantile and dishonest “public information and education campaign” put together by advertising agency FCB New Zealand (to its everlasting shame) at a cost to the taxpayer of $4 million. The aim was to frighten New Zealanders into thinking our water infrastructure is in a parlous state and thus soften us up for the hijacking of council-owned assets and the removal of democratic accountability mechanisms.

In fact many, if not most, councils manage their water infrastructure efficiently and safely. In any case, the debate now is not so much about whether the management of water can be improved, which many critics of Three Waters accept. What’s contentious is the means by which the government proposes to do it.

As I said in a recent letter to the Times-Age, New Zealanders need to decide what type of government they want: one that serves all citizens equally, or one that recognises a minority racial group as having rights that trump those of the majority.

This doesn’t mean sweeping aside Maori rights. But it’s one thing to treat Maori fairly and respectfully, as is their due, and quite another to undermine the fundamental democratic principles from which all New Zealanders – Maori, Pakeha and everyone else – benefit.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that people of Maori descent enjoy the same rights as the rest of us. These include the right to stand for councils and to get elected, as many have done. That would provide the opportunity to be represented in the running of a legitimately constituted Three Waters governance structure. But the powerful iwi interests that influence the government (and in particular Labour’s Maori caucus, which is a power centre in its own right) want to bypass that process and enjoy a seat at the table as of right.

To put it another way, the Three Waters project, as it stands, involves replacing democracy with another form of government for which we don’t have a name.


homepaddock said...

Garrick Tremain sums it up, three waters is three bulldozers:

Ele Ludemann

R Singers said...

I guess Phil Goff has decided he's too old to escape angry constituents by climbing out windows and with social media the backlash will be much bigger than just student radio (

Frank Black said...

There is a term for such a government policy: apartheid.

Apartheid didn't just segregate and divide people into racial categories, it also promoted the interests (at least originally) of white Afrikaners over others.

Odysseus said...

Yes Karl, this is a naked race-based power grab for assets built up by all New Zealanders. "Co-governance" is the driving force, the rest of the "detail" is meaningless obfuscation. Labour are actively conspiring to destroy democracy based on universal suffrage in New Zealand, a process the dim-witted narcissist Ardern has called "foundational change". There is a suggestion they will even seek to entrench the legislation by requiring a 75% majority to repeal it. Every New Zealander has a stake in access to fresh water and the preservation of full accountability for the assets they have contributed to. Anything else is rank corruption. Every New Zealander must oppose this legislation. However I fully expect Ardern will introduce her "hate speech" law soon to stifle debate with the threat of up to three years' jail for anyone who dares to disagree. I hope Harvard enjoy their "progressive" Commencement speaker, an inexplicable choice to most New Zealanders these days.

Anonymous said...

I note the MSM is now going hard on the 3 Waters propaganda campaign with a story on One News last night claiming any assertion of water 'owenrship' passing to Maori was 'misinformation'...the word of the moment for the cuurent government.
The Maori affairs reporter opened her piece stating the "three waters has been wrongly described by some as a Maori asset grab". They then rolled out Tuku 'undie-gate'Morgan to further refute this claim followed up by the governments poodle Garry Webber again saying its not about ownership. In a way he's right, its not ownership, its about earning money from water royalties.
They also then went on to descibe the 4 regional entities geographic coverage and failed to mentioned they were drawn up along tribal boundaries despite Helmut Modlik of Ngati Toa stating empahtically earlier in the piece is isn't about Maori (or democracy for that matter). How gullible do they think we are.
I note also the current campaign is now pushing the view that this reform is to stop the evil National and ACT privatising water. If giving private Moari corporations a controlling vote over ratepayer funded infrastructure and allowing them the right to earn roaylties from the sale of water as per the cabinet briefing paper “Protecting and Promoting iwi/Māori rights and Interests in the New Zealand Three Waters Service Delivery Model: Paper Three.” then I need to review my definition of privatisation. As far as I am aware I cannot buys shares in the likes of Ngai Tahu, I cannot sign up for memebership of them, I cannot run for election to its is the very definition of a privately owned company running itself entirely for its own benefit. the hypocricy of this whole exercise is Three Waters is delivering the very privitisation it claims to be defending against.

Doug Longmire said...

Make no mistake - "co-governance" is rule by a racist, tribal elite.
It is the end of democracy in New Zealand.
It will destroy our nation, as we know it.
All ordinary Kiwis will be under the dictatorship of Comrade Ardern and her team of apartheid, racist Marxists.

Souvlaki said...

If anything is designed to stir up civil unrest, its 3 Waters and He Puapua.
The protest at parliament I'm afraid will be a kindergarten picnic in comparison if we proceed with these apartheid plans.

Luxon has said "we are one people"...but nothing ( to my knowledge at least) more definitive.
If National are keeping their 'powder dry', this is a mistake in my opinion....they are leaving the tomb wide open for 'Lazarus Peters' to haunt us all again...

Anna Mouse said...

Karl, Elizabeth Rata uses a term in an article published in the Democracy Project. She refers to it as an Ethnocracy. An ethnocracy is a polite word to describe apartheid.

Usually true ethnocracies are found in countries where they have a single ethnic group in charge. There are cases however in history where minority ethnocracies have existed. The last one I recall was in Rwanda and history does not hold that poltical and social system and its citizens in great stead.

The current coup détat that is occuring in NZ will have lasting, social, economic and political negetive implications that as a New Zealander I cannot fathom what this Government thinks it will achieve.

Zoroforever said...

Another great article Karl, just a pity it doesn't have wider circulation.
What I don't get, is the people I know who voted Labour don't go along with this stuff, but will keep voting Labour because National/Act or anyone else to the right of the Government are evil. Their local Labour MP could bash them around the head and they would keep coming back for more. A bit like Balldrick in Black Adder.
I just about fell off my chair with laughter when I opened the diagram on how this is supposed to work, unbelievable.
Keep up the good work..

Anonymous said...

Thank Christ a journalist understands the correct meaning of 'reform'.

- Paul Corrigan

David McLoughlin said...

the working group ignores the elephant in the room (or should I say the taniwha in the whare

I utterly detest the expression "the elephant in the room" and never use it.

I love your fabulous indigenous update of it. I'll use it whenever I can. I hope it takes off...

Birdman said...

I remarked to a political commentator only yesterday, "Funny, the latest Roy Morgan poll can't be found on Stuff - pass the $55M". The answer came back "Best investment the Govt ever made!". This response isn't surprising when it comes to the DimPost and Stuffed but that it rings true across many areas of MSM reporting is alarming.

Neil Keating said...

Isn't it at least possible that Minister David Parker came up with the idea of the four water entities?

Andy Espersen said...

The irony is that if it had not been for the racist element in the three-waters proposal this would perhaps not be a silly idea. If our government had been trustworthy the way a government should be and usually is trusted by local councils and by its citizens, there is nothing inherently wrong in centralising the responsibility, ownership and management of the whole country's water delivery and supply system. I can visualise some benefits.

Hilary Taylor said...

No sinecures for anyone in's that simple for me. Are we a team or not? Are we all Kiwis or not? If any local council needs help with managing their water then central govt can give them assistance....what is all this flapdoodle about if not obfuscation of agendas that might scare the horses? We see...oh boy, do we see!

Terry Morrissey said...

Just as a matter of interest.
‘After more than two years and millions of dollars spent, the Government has finally confirmed a new media outfit will replace state-owned TVNZ and RNZ. Mediawatch looks at what's behind the new public media plan - and how the public and the media were out of the loop.”

So we are about to have a new public media entity dumped on us. Or is it just a completely new version of the herald and stuff combined into a state-owned ministry of propaganda? From where are they going to find journalists sufficiently corrupt to fill vacancies? Let me guess. From the same media sources where they have been pouring millions for the last couple of years.
Another underhand govt move.

Richard Arlidge said...

Great article, again, Karl and I take some comfort in the replies but, alas, I feel Zoroforever has nailed a sad truth to an underlying realty of our voting populace. The indecent hurry to push this Three Waters proposal through should, in itself, set alarm bells ringing and the now proposed extraordinarily convoluted governance structure, to appease the dissenters, is indeed an indictment of the sham this all is. Despite the well-rehearsed narrative, the fundamental thing Minister Mahuta seeks to achieve is Maori seats at the table and the ability to recover a charge (royalty) for Maori. This proposed expanded governance structure just adds more complexity; more snouts in the trough, and what are the stated requisites to fill these positions? (Clue, very little to do with democracy and nothing at all to do with expertise in the collection, storage, treatment or reticulation of the three waters). As Andy Espersen moots, the ‘idea’ is not entirely silly, but it has been completely hijacked for the benefit of a minority racially defined cohort, and anyone who thinks this all will result in cheaper more efficient and appropriate management of our three waters, you are deluding yourself. So, when that increased bill arrives at your door for this folly, you’ll know who to blame and, as for togs, you might not then be able to afford even the undies. But then, Tuku might be able to spring you for a used designer pair – although, of course, sadly you've paid for those too!

hughvane said...

I have no wish to stir any pots, but why (Karl) are you not co-linking this blog with Garrick Tremain's page?

His cartoons, allied with your incisive text, would serve to highlight more widely the gravely malignant processes of current government.

Unknown said...

Karl, take a step back to the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. This whole thing is about water - the stuff that falls from the sky. None of that water was around in 1840 and tomorrow's rain belongs to nobody in particular. So why are we even considering giving the ownership of it to any particular group? Nobody owns it and nobody has even the most distant claim to royalties from its distribution! The sooner THIS issue is raised again the better - all the better to get a realistic perspective on the basis of this whole nonsense...

DB said...

The concept that Maori automatically have sufficient skill and knowledge in everything so they are therefore entitled to a seat at the table just because they are Maori makes my blood boil. And I suspect a lot of Maori feel the same. Like all others involved in these significant decision making processes they should be elected or appointed on their recognised skill, nothing more nothing less.

swordfish said...

Recent polling on Three Waters:

Curia Poll (October 2021)

Entire Sample

Oppose 56%
Support 19%
Unsure 24%


Male: Oppose 61% / Support 17% / Unsure 22%
Female: Oppose 52% / Support 22% / Unsure 26%


60+: Oppose 62% / Support 16% / Unsure 21%
40-59: Oppose 58% / Support 21% / Unsure 21%
18-39: Oppose 47% / Support 21% / Unsure 32%


Auckland: Oppose 49% / Support 16% / Unsure 35%
Wellington: Oppose 29% / Support 25% / Unsure 45%
Christchurch: Oppose 57% / Support 16% / Unsure 28%
Prov Cities: Oppose 54% / Support 29% / Unsure 17%
Towns: Oppose 73% / Support 13% / Unsure 14%
Rural: Oppose 66% / Support 18% / Unsure 16%

Party Support

National: Oppose 63% / Support 23% / Unsure 14%
Labour: Oppose 39% / Support 28% / Unsure 34%
ACT: Oppose 78% / Support 4% / Unsure 18%
Green: Oppose 37% / Support 31% / Unsure 31%
Unsure: Oppose 64% / Support 13% / Unsure 23%


Newshub Reid Research Poll (November 2021)

Entire Sample

Oppose 47.7%
Support 27.3%
Unsure 25.0%

Labour Voters

Oppose 30%
Support 40%
Unsure 31%

Hiko said...

All of this is how step by step you subvert a functioning democracy into something else
Mahuta has just gone back on her word to reinstall the Tauranga City council and the unaccountable Mahuta installed Tauranga commission will stay in place

Glenn said...

Yes I'm afraid I agree about Luxon - he doesnt seem to fire up about injustices. I would have thought the loss of democracy, also rightly called apartheid,
will saturate other govt bodies (education and health so far and very preferential treatment at Med School Otago) is actually something Luxon could get his teeth into and try to stop its progress. Inflation and tax breaks are old hat - our constitution is sacred.

amatteu said...

Link to page 1 of diagram here. There are 2 pages.

Russell Parkinson said...

Hi Karl, great article but the one aspect I never see mentioned anywhere is that currently the Regional councils allocate water use rights, not the District or City Councils who look after the networks. This is where the power and money is. Once you control the issuing of water take consents then you control all the water in NZ. So effectively we are looking at handing over ownership of water to iwi.

Water is currently free to all New Zealanders, you just pay for storage, pumping, pipes, maintenance and admin.
The pipe network etc is really neither here nor there. The only money in that is a contract for maintenance.

Odysseus said...

Perhaps I'm being too charitable but I think Luxon has made the right choice to focus on the economy and the cost of living crisis at this time. Everyone can feel the reality of the rapid decline in their standard of living. Luxon is still establishing himself as The Alternative and he needs the public to be willing to listen to him; the phone was well and truly off the hook for his predecessor. Luxon will be aware that arrayed against him is a hostile media who are paid by the government to spread "co-governance" propaganda. It would be most unwise for him to offer his head on a platter to the media to their cries of "race-baiter" etc, as beset Collins when she challenged He PuaPua, right now.

Unknown said...

The final points about IWI having the same ability to stand for Council is really the most important bit. Tribal Corporations and "Government Maori" now plainly view the democratic process as something standing in their way. God forbid they should have to be voted in etc.Thats for the rest of us Plebs.

Ben Thomas said...

It has always puzzled me as to why reform is synonymous with improvement. More often than not reform results in poorer services, facilities, etc. ‘Reform' is in my view neutral; neither better nor worse but sadly all too often worse.

Anonymous said...

"Amid all the debate of the past few months, the fear of privatisation has hardly been raised at all." ...which is quite frankly bizzare. Isn't handing 50% control of water to Iwi privatisation?