Queens Counsel says Three Waters claims have been calculated to Deceive Parlimentarias and when it becomes law to deceive New Zealanders generally

Written by on August 9, 2022

On 27 October 2021 Local Government Minister Nania Mahuta confirmed that the Three Waters Reform would now be mandatory for all councils. Central Government is moving ahead with the formation of four water entities across the country.

There’s now a transitional process happening so that the Entities will be managing three waters by 2024.

In April 2022 Minister Mahuta announced Councils can now access the Three Waters reform “Better Off” support package as part of that transitional process.

The funding provides an opportunity to fast-track projects that might not otherwise have got off the ground – or that couldn’t previously progress due to lack of funding. Councils can create and accelerate projects that build resilience to climate change and other natural hazards, deliver infrastructure that supports housing development, or enhance local placemaking and community wellbeing.

Right wing lobby group, The Taxpayers Union, engaged Franks Ogilvie for a legal opinion and this was reviewed by Gary Judd QC regarding the Government’s reassurances that under Minister Mahuta’s Three Waters, local communities and councils will still ‘own’ shares in the new water entities.

The lawyers have been blunt in their response saying in their assessment of the situation “Ministers appear to have cold-bloodedly decided to confuse Councils and ratepayers with false statements.”. They say the claims have been “calculated to deceive Parliamentarians, and when it becomes law, to deceive New Zealanders generally”.

Gary Judd QC comments in his review of the legal opinion: “When all the lying statements are put together, as [the] opinion does, the government’s effrontery is breath-taking.”

In the proposal that was modified from the original offering, the government announced councils will receive non-financial shares in the new entities, with each council getting one share per 50,000 people in its district, rounded up so that each council has at least one share.

TCDC have a permanent resident population of approximately 33,000 which would equate to just 1 share in Entity B, one of the four ownership groups throughout the country. Districts like Thames Coromandel and Queenstown Lakes will be severely under-represented in the government’s shareholding scheme for the new water service entities and lose out in the financial support package – both of which are based on normally-resident population.

As popular visitor destinations the Thames-Coromandel and Queenstown-Lakes mayors have gone public to say using resident population puts both their districts at a disadvantage. Mayor Sandra Goudie says “With the allocation model with the Three Waters, our district is looking to be allocated $16 million, whereas we should be getting $32 million.”

The Taxpayers Union has instructed its lawyers to write to the Commerce Commission to bring this matter to their attention. The letter asks them to:

investigate and if feasible, prosecute certain people who have made or assisted in the making of misleading or deceptive claims that territorial authorities and communities will have ownership of the Three Waters “entities” under the ‘Three Waters’ scheme for New Zealand water infrastructure.

Separate to this the “Water Users’ Group” to challenge Minister Mahuta’s claim that the Three Waters co-governance model is required for the Crown to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi. On Thursday last week, the matter finally started to be heard in Court.

Opposition to this appears strong in our region with “Stop Three Waters” signs appearing at many locations. Despite this the Government seems determined to press on with the changes and has already employed thousands of people to work on the transitional arrangements.

TCDC has received one tranche of the Three Waters Funding of which $4m has been earmarked to develop the Kōpū Marine Facility in Thames.

This has $12m remaining from the Three Waters “Better Off Fund” from the Governments Three Waters asset grab.

There’s a lot more water to go under the Three Waters Bridge. Opposition parties have publicly said they would reverse Three Waters if elected at next years elections and several Court cases are underway challenging aspects of Three Waters.

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