Sunday, April 21, 2024

First water reform Bill flows to Parliament

The Government’s Water Services Entities Bill was introduced to Parliament today, with Local Government Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, saying the legislation lays the groundwork for the establishment of four dedicated water entities to provide safe and affordable water services.

The Bill is the first of several pieces of legislation to establish a new system for national water services as part of the Government’s Three Waters reforms.

“The bill establishes four dedicated Water Service Entities that will enable infrastructure to provide safe and affordable drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services,” said Ms Mahuta (pictured).

“These changes will deliver clean and safe drinking water services at an affordable price for New Zealanders. By investing in such critical infrastructure now we can help secure New Zealand’s economy for future generations.

“Everyone accepts the need for change. Without reform our water infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. Households, businesses and communities would face genuine public health risks, services that don’t meet their needs, and rising bills of up to $9,000 a year per household just for water services.”

The Minister said years of underinvestment across the country had led to threats to water quality.

“Pipes burst in our city streets, sewage flows into our waterways, and almost 500,000 New Zealanders in one year were forced to boil their water because of faecal contamination,” she said.

“This is unacceptable and the costs to communities and ratepayers are just too big to ignore. We are acting now because others wouldn’t.”

She said independent advice had shown that up to $185 billion was required over three decades to address underinvestment in maintenance and replacements, upgrade water infrastructure to meet modern standards, provide for growing communities and build resilience against climate change and natural hazards.

“The new water services entities will ensure all New Zealanders get the high-quality water services they deserve, no matter whether they live in our biggest cities or heartland provincial communities.”

“It will also ensure public ownership is a bottom line for this Government, and the Bill contains strong protections against privatisation that will ensure this essential infrastructure is safeguarded for future generations.”

The Bill also incorporates the recommendations of the Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability.

“It secures community ownership of the water entities, protects against privatisation, and ensures a stronger community voice in the new entities.”

“It ensures the collective ownership of the entities by local government on behalf of their communities through a shareholding allocated on the basis of population, as recommended by the Working Group.

“The Bill contains robust mechanisms to provide for iwi/Māori rights and interests in our three waters system but makes clear these rights and interests do not include ownership.”

Local Government NZ President, Stuart Crosby, today described the Bill’s introduction as an important milestone in the reform process.

“Everyone agrees the way we deliver water services needs to change,” said Mr Crosby.  

“LGNZ will be making a detailed submission, championing local voice. Councils know their communities best so are best placed to identify and determine their water needs.  

“When people raise concerns about their pipes, drains and sewers with their councillors and mayor, it gives our sector an opportunity to hear about any other issues people in their community want to raise. This vital connection cannot be lost when the reformed system is in place.  

“We will be doing everything to ensure that the model and legislation are in the overall interest of our communities,” he said.   

The Bill will shortly undergo its first reading debate in Parliament and will then be subject to a full select committee process where further public submissions will be welcomed, she said.

Further legislation will be introduced later this year to enable the transfer of assets and liabilities from local authorities to Water Services Entities, and integrate entities into other regulatory systems.

Another piece of legislation will cover economic regulation and consumer protection.

A National Transition Unit will oversee the establishment of the new entities over the next two years.

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