National leader Judith Collins denounces Three Waters ads showing 'sludge' from taps as 'fake news'

National leader Judith Collins has described state-funded Three Waters ads as "fake news" because they show what looks like "sludge" coming out of taps. 

The Department of Internal Affairs has been running an ad promoting the Government's Three Waters proposal, which would see four publicly-owned entities take responsibility from 67 councils for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

Under the slogan "better water is better for everyone", the ad depicts a man running a bath with what looks to be a green substance coming out of the tap, until it's fixed by a plumber. 

"Imagine Aotearoa without good water? That'd be rude as aye? That's why we're working with councils to make sure it doesn't happen for real," the ad's narrator, Thor: Ragnarok actress Rachel House, says. 

"Now, instead of them having to shoulder this burden, we're grouping it together to keep everybody on the path to better all round water."

Collins, who has promised to roll back the Government's plans if National is elected in 2023, says the ad is inaccurate and does not reflect the reality of water in New Zealand. 

"We've seen a fake news campaign put out there by the Government making out that drinking water is full of mud and all sorts of other sludge when that's entirely not true and 97 percent of all our drinking water meets all the standards that it needs to," she told Magic Talk.

Collins appeared to be citing the Ministry of Health's 2010 to 2011 Annual Report on Drinking-water Quality which found that 97 percent of Kiwis on registered community drinking-water supplies serving more than 100 people received bacteriologically-compliant drinking-water, which is one of a number of standards. 

But overall, it found that 78 percent of New Zealanders received drinking-water that met all of the requirements of the standards. 

"What I'm talking about is the commercials being run on television with state-funded commercials that show what looks like mud or sewage coming out of taps. That is absolutely fake and is something that the Government has apparently spent $4 million of taxpayer money on.

"It is totally fake and we need to stand up against that behaviour."

National leader Judith Collins denounces Three Waters ads showing 'sludge' from taps as 'fake news'

A Department of Internal Affairs spokesperson told Newshub the ad asks people to imagine New Zealand without good water "rather than seeking to document the current state" of water. 

"The creative approach uses animation and reframes water services from a system that people take for granted to a system in trouble that requires more care and attention to allow it to thrive for the greater good of New Zealand."

The spokesperson cited the Ministry of Health's most recent annual Drinking Water Quality report which found one in five New Zealanders were supplied with drinking water that was not guaranteed to be safe from bacterial contamination.

It's also an issue that's been raised by the Auditor-General several times, the spokesperson said, including in its most recent Insights Into Local Government

"Based on our analysis, we remain concerned that councils might not be adequately reinvesting in critical assets," the report says. "If councils continue to underinvest in their assets, there is a heightened risk of asset failure and resultant reduction in service levels, which will negatively affect community well-being."

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

National claims to have received almost 25,000 signatures in two days on its petition to stop the Three Waters reforms

The reforms came under the spotlight last week after demonstrators stormed Nelson City Council as councillors met to discuss the plans. The council has written to the Government expressing concern about the governance model, which would see Nelson grouped with Wellington.

"The reforms have been extremely challenging for our communities to assess and understand, and this has caused significant anxiety," the letter reads

"The public information campaign has not met the needs of our community, as they have struggled to access clear and meaningful information to help them understand the issues."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is also opposed, because Auckland would end up contributing the most to its grouping with Northland, but would only have about 40 percent representation. 

Whangārei District Council voted to withdraw from the plan. 

Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby has said the October 1 deadline for expressions of concern is too soon and they need "more time to work through the key outstanding issues". 

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

But Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has no plans to back down.

"Pausing the conversation around the reform agenda will not change the scale, size, or complexity of the challenge confronting councils," she said in Parliament last week.

"We've provided evidence and research that shows that the looming costs facing councils will be unbearable by ratepayers."

A report by the Water Industry Commission for Scotland estimated that New Zealand would need to invest between $120 billion to $185 billion on water infrastructure over the next 30 years to meet standards and provide for future population growth.

Department of Internal Affairs modelling showed that even at the more conservative end of estimates, the average household bill for water services could be as high as $1900 to $9000 by 2051. 

The reforms stem from Havelock North's outbreak of gastroenteritis in 2016 where four people died and 5000 became ill, as well as drought in Auckland and old pipes bursting in Wellington.

The Government tried to make the reforms easier for councils by announcing a whopping $2.5 billion package in July to ensure they were not only "no worse off", but "better off" from the restructure of water assets. 

The four water service entities are scheduled to begin operating in July 2024. It's expected to grow GDP by $14 billion to $23 billion over the next 30 years and create an estimated 6000 to 9000 jobs. 

Under the proposed model, mana whenua will be consulted and have representation, but the Government has confirmed the four entities will remain in public ownership.