Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Squeeze your eyes shut, cross your fingers and hope

The Three Waters project is a con and a fiasco on every level.

First, it fails to satisfy even the most basic democratic test. A system in which the nation’s water infrastructure is run by opaque “entities” where 16 percent of the population wields 50 percent of the power (and that’s assuming the representatives of the iwi elite truly speak for all people of Maori descent, which is far from assured) makes a mockery of representative government.

Second, and in addition to the above, it severs the links by which the public is able to exercise control over infrastructure that it owns. The recent attempt to overcome opposition to Three Waters by tweaking the shareholding arrangements, so as to create an illusion of financial control by councils, was a feat of prestidigitation that fooled no one.

Those two failings could be described as the primary constitutional objections to Three Waters, but there are others – such as the absence of an informed mandate from the public (co-governance wasn’t mentioned in Labour’s 2020 manifesto) and not even a pretence of adequate consultation. (Far from it. Once Nanaia Mahuta realised dozens of councils intended to fight her asset grab, she resolved to bulldoze it through whether they liked it or not.)

A cynic might say such arrogance should be no surprise coming from a minister who enjoys quasi-regal standing within the Tainui confederation and is thus steeped in a hierarchical tribal culture that dates back to the Maori King Movement. While her manner is quiet and understated, it’s possible she’s accustomed to getting her own way by virtue of her hereditary status. (Just a personal theory …)

Against all that, we have a vague promise that the country’s water infrastructure will be better funded and more efficiently managed under the new mechanisms. But while even critics of Three Waters acknowledge there’s scope for improvement, the failings of the existing arrangements – and especially the supposed health risks from poor water – have been grossly overstated in an attempt to frighten the public, with assistance from a crude TV propaganda campaign that would have embarrassed even Joseph Goebbels.

So much for the constitutional flaws (for want of a better term) in the Three Waters project. But on top of that, and just as glaring, are the potential bureaucratic and administrative fishhooks.

Today’s Wairarapa Times-Age reports concern within local councils – or should I say panic? – over the cost of the transition to the new structure. Carterton District Council, one of the smallest in the country (population 9700), expects to spend $850,000 preparing for Three Waters over the next two years. The council’s chief executive says the plan has imposed an “enormous” programme of work that the council’s not resourced to cope with it. Mayor Greg Laing describes the process as “absolutely appalling”.

The Times-Age quotes the Department of Internal Affairs as saying funding will be provided to cover transition costs, but it’s obvious that councils haven’t seen any of the money and don’t know when they will. In any case, South Wairarapa’s mayor Alex Beijen, who presides over a district with a population of only 11,000 (and one that’s already financially stretched to breaking point), says resourcing will be a big challenge even with extra government money.

Reading between the lines, it seems clear the process has been so rushed that no one thought to put transitional funding arrangements in place – or alternatively, didn’t have the time. Could this urgency have anything to do with the fact that there’s an election next year and Labour is anxious to lock in its audacious ideological projects before it gets booted out of office, as seems more likely with every passing day?

Similar unseemly haste is evident in health, where the consequences, at least on a personal level, could be even more catastrophic. In a scathing assessment, Ian Powell – former executive director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists – points to the massive disruption and destabilisation likely to be caused by Health Minister Andrew Little’s madcap scheme to abolish district health boards and replace them with … what, exactly? 

If anyone knows, we haven’t been told. That's exactly Powell's point. But in the meantime, God alone knows how much money, energy and expertise will be diverted from the provision of health care – to the detriment of sick people desperately in need of treatment – as the health system struggles to restructure itself to comply with Little’s ill-defined vision.

As Powell points out, “With only 40 working days to go, DHBs have no more information on what will replace them on 1 July than they had on 21 April last year when the health minister announced their abolition.” You can read his damning appraisal here – and if that’s not depressing enough, Richard Prebble has more to say about the state of the health system here.

All this has a wearying familiarity. Labour governments tend to come into office bursting with grand ideas but lacking the ministerial talent necessary to convert their missionary zeal into effective action. Their ambitions consistently outstrip their ability to deliver, resulting in reliance on obscurantist jargon and slogans (Powell cites the empty vow to end the “postcode lottery” in health care) and promiscuous spending binges as a substitute for good policy. Little, who should have been one of Labour’s more competent ministers, has turned out to be anything but.

When it’s plain to everyone except fervent true believers that the wheels are falling off, Labour collectively squeezes its eyes shut, crosses its fingers and hopes everything will magically turn out okay. That’s what Mahuta and Little appear to be doing now, metaphorically speaking, and by the time voters are able to do anything it will be too late. The damage will have been done.




Max Ritchie said...

Unfortunately Prebble’s article is paywalled. But I can imagine it’ll be his usual common sense. Ms Ardern could use someone like Richard Prebble which would mean that there’d be one member of the Cabinet with ability. The Mahuta saga is appalling. A litany of lies with the sole purpose of enriching a tiny segment of the population. It’s not even 17% - the people appointed to these boards will all be from the tribes, so if you’re not on the A List then forget about it. How does she explain the boundaries of the 4 entities? She doesn’t of curse - explaining is not for aristocrats. Ms Mahuta is a very good example of what is wrong with inherited privileged and with seats in parliament being allotted on the basis of race.

Anna Mouse said...

This government (if you can call it such), has either a myopic view to what they are doing and do not care OR they have a cunning plan that is actually coming together nicely.

Either way the below, middle and abpve average citizen is getting literally bent over.

It will not end well which ever as I do not beleive that the majority of the Nation will stand for the outcome for long if at all and those cracks have already shown.

The very fact that 3 Waters, the DHB and the MHA to name the few of the many, shows that Labour are way too arrogant to listen to something as plainly understood by any child the thing called democracy.

Richard Arlidge said...

It is beyond a disgraceful this whole 3 Waters scam. Last week, John Bishop, Chris Bishop's father, wrote an opinion piece in the Dompost to which I responded and was published beneath a highlighted letter pushing a different narrative the following day. What I wrote was this
"John Bishop in his column (A shameless asset grab, 6 May) sets out some critical and fundamental issues in regard to the proposed Three Waters reform. This reform will undoubtedly impact the daily lives of every New Zealander and, as the public will be picking up the ultimate tab, are we not entitled to know in plain language precisely the justification for Maori being given an undemocratic and disproportionately higher interest and say-so in these proposed entities, along with an exclusive right to tax us all in the form of fees or royalties? A claimed spiritual connection with water is one thing, but how is this directly relevant to: the collection and treatment and reticulation of potable water; the collection and dispersal of stormwater; and, the collection and treatment of sewage, all paid for by rate and taxpayers? Surely we are entitled to, and should be given a clear explanation of, how this governance structure relates and is appropriate to each of these activities individually, as opposed to being fobbed off with, and it all bundled in, nebulous and very dubious Treaty principles and mythology?"
Except what was actually published (with no abridged notification) conveniently (and shamefully) deleted that part about the collection of fees / royalties. A small, but monumentally important detail that almost all column space given over to this reform on various media sites to date seldom mentions. I'm sure if the general public understood that this was coming their way they would be rather more animated and against this undemocratic asset grab John Bishop rightly identifies.
As for the health reforms, don't even get me started about that disaster also coming our way. We've got hospices that are closing and hospitals crying out for staff who deserve better pay (and for it to be backdated btw), yet here between these two unmandated rorts more than a $billion will be wasted just setting them up. Heads certainly need to roll and, until they grow a spine, please don't look to National to fix it.

Hilary Taylor said... I have emailed the chairman of the Independent Maori Statutory Board that advises Auckland Council on matters Maori today, asking if public comments by Tau Henare, its deputy chair, on twitter are OK with him...he called Seymour a wanker and affirmed the disparaging remarks by Willie J. I asked him if we are meant to take Henare & his role seriously given his conduct in a social media 'town square'....copied in Phil Goff as this board is regulated by the Council.It's just astonishing that guys like him get padded sinecures and behave like louts. Nothing will come of it of course but if I can give him even a few minutes discomfort then I will. WHat a disgrace.

Karl du Fresne said...

Henare and Jackson are loudmouths and bullies who should be locked in a small, secure room together.

Odysseus said...

I am hoping that the looming disaster that will be the hostile imposition of 3 Waters will tear Labour apart and bring down this appalling government. 3 Waters and the Maori Health Authority (with Mahuta's sister at its head) appear to be driven by Labour's Maori caucus who are wielding their naked electoral clout of some 15 seats. But with Labour slumping in the polls as the economy tanks and in response to these anti-democratic, racist and ill considered projects, upwards of twenty of their caucus colleagues are set to lose their seats at next year's election, while Labour itself will be tossed out of government. There must come a point when any political party places its own self-preservation above indulging the fantasies of a self-promoting clique.

M_C said...

Great article! Blogs like this are now the primary source of reporting on what's happening to our democracy. Silencing the media is the only way something like Three Waters could ever be implemented without Nanaia's lies (and they are actual lies, as in intentionally false statements). For example, that councils will continue to have "ownership". They will have shared legal title, but they will not have any proprietary rights. That does not amount to ownership, not even close. And she claims that Mana Whenua will have "a say" in management. They'll have 50% of the top-level board; they'll have on average 20% of the council's 50%, they'll have the power to give instructions to the operating companies via the "Mana o te Wai" statement, and they'll have a veto since 75% approval is required to make decisions. Oh, and they will be the only group whose economic participation is explicitly protected! Another lie, Nanaia claims that she received legal advice from the Crown Law office that Maori somehow have rights and interests in three waters infrastructure (as in, pipes, pumping stations, sewerage treatment plants...). She's either lying or Crown Law have lost their marbles but we don't know since she won't release the advice. There's a court case pending about this but of course the media won't report on it. It's maddening. Meanwhile Willie Jackson says "democracy has changed" as if democracy is like the weather. We didn't wake up one day in 1993, look at the window and say "look, MMP happened", we had a referendum! Democracy only changes if we change it via informed consent of the voters. That's what happened with MMP and that hasn't happened with Maori co-governance and it never will, because 50% governance being given to 16% of people on a hereditary basis is not democracy changing; it's democracy ending.

Trev1 said...

M_C: Brilliant!

Doug Longmire said...

Now retired after my 50 year career as a pharmacist..
I was working as an Advisory Pharmacist for the Ministry of Health (Medsafe) back in the 80's when the original health sector reforms took place - from central Ministry control, to Area Health boards (4 of them), then to District Health Boards.
What I recall very clearly, was the personal distress, confusion, loss of jobs, arrive at work to find an envelope on your desk telling you that your job was "dis-established" from tomorrow, but you could apply for a role in the new structure. (Good luck mate, but who pays the mortgage in the meantime !!)

Fortunately for me, I was an inspector under the Medicines Act, and my role was not "dis-established". But I had many friends and neighbours who did lose their jobs.
At the time it happened, a journalist wrote a scathing comment along the lines that the "Health Department" treated it's staff with such harsh cruelty that it should be labelled the "Unhealth Department" or words to that effect. It was, in fact, just brutal !!
Mr Little's so called reforms are just a repeat of the train crash of the early 80's. I really feel for the loyal DHB workers who are going to be dumped on the scrap heap, like back then. !!

Ben Thomas said...

Democracy is indeed a wonderful thing but I have not noticed much of it in recent years or for that matter in the distant past. Councils have made a shambles of managing water resources yet the same old time servers get elected every three years and rates continue to outpace inflation. We have the same timeservers elected to DHBs and whilst there appear to do little to justify their existence. I suppose the blame lies with us for electing these no hopers plus the majority who cannot be bothered to vote. Three waters; abolition of DHBs; I doubt whether much will change. Those like Jackson and Henare will continue to use personal abuse as a debating tool. Goff will be comfortable in an overseas embassy. Mahuta will continue to mouth platitudes and Hipkin will continue to give press conferences in his Bermuda shorts whilst failing to answer the concerns of his constituents. Those of my age will celebrate the fact that we won’t have to put up with them much longer.