Prime Minister Bill English changes tone after water backlash

Amid increasing public backlash, Prime Minister Bill English has changed his tone about water, saying charging companies for water needs to be looked at.

"We've got to work through all the existing issues around water about how the history of first in first served started and what the transition might be," Mr English said on Thursday.

That's a marked change in tone compared to the stance of Minister for the Environment Nick Smith just 24 hours earlier, who stressed that he was "not particularly concerned".

Asked to explain the discrepancy in tone with his boss on Thursday, Dr Smith attacked the media.

"My experience with the media is that your capacity to be able to misquote, to misuse, twist things that sometimes different ministers say ... It usually pays to check back with the other minister, more often it is the minister that is correct."

The Prime Minister's change of message follows a Newshub investigation showing the impending sale of consent at a Christchurch wool treatment factory, allowing a take of more than 4 million litres a day.

"I'm just wondering who's telling the truth here, is it Nick or Bill?" Green co-leader James Shaw asked.

On Tuesday it was revealed Nongfu Spring, a water company based in China, is currently trying to buy a consent that could give it 5 million litres of water per day virtually for free.

"We're just working pretty carefully through the complexities," Mr English says.

Mr English has changed the Government's tone, but not its position. It is not really interested in charging for water anytime soon.

But all the opposition parties do want to, making it a real election issue that people can vote on.

Newshub.

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