National MP Nicola Willis uses councillor's rebuke of 'deceitful, lying' Government to illustrate Three Waters backlash

To illustrate backlash to Three Waters, National MP Nicola Willis held up the front page of a newspaper in Parliament, which included a quote describing the Government as "deceitful". 

In a stand-off with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta on Thursday, Willis asked if she'd seen the front page of the Wairarapa Times-Age, which featured a quote from Masterton councilor Tina Nixon. 

Nixon said the Government had not acted in good faith with Three Waters, which was originally pitched as voluntary for councils. She called them "a deceitful, lying pack of bastards" - a quote plastered across the paper's front page. 

Three Waters is the Government's plan to establish four publicly-owned entities to take responsibility for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater from local councils. 

"Has she seen the front page of today's Wairarapa Times-Age?" Willis asked Mahuta. "And if so, does she think that her approach to Three Waters reform has built trust and goodwill with local government?"

Mahuta, who when speaking to The AM Show on Thursday morning accused councils of spreading misinformation about Three Waters, told Willis she was aware of the negative feedback. 

"I've seen a number of comments from a number of elected officials which I frankly believe are biased and shameful. Much of the information is making claims that are simply not true or accurate in relation to these reforms," Mahuta said. 

"I continue to stress that the whole reason for these reforms are two decades of under-investment in water infrastructure. 

"Constrained council balance sheets means councils will not be able to respond with forecast costs of water infrastructure investment estimated to be between $120-$185 billion over the next 30 years."

National MP Nicola Willis in Parliament.
National MP Nicola Willis in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

Mahuta said ratepayers will "suffer" if the issues are not resolved. 

"I've not seen any alternative put forward by the member's party that would deliver safe drinking water, ensure value for money from the estimated $180 billion investment needed over 30 years, and keep our beaches swimmable."

Willis asked Mahuta if it was "biased and shameful" of Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to say Aucklanders would have little benefit from the reforms and would only have a minority voice on an oversight committee.

"Auckland would contribute 94 percent of the assets acquired by the new water entity and get in return a minority voice on an oversight committee which in any case would have no effective power of governance and no ability to ensure responsiveness," Goff said in response to Three Waters. 

"Far from underinvesting in infrastructure, in this year's 10-year Budget, Auckland Council has invested $11 billion in water services for the coming decade.

"Projects like the $1.2 billion Central Interceptor address problems like wastewater overflows and will dramatically improve water quality of our beaches and harbours."

Under the Three Waters model, councils will remain the owners of their water assets but they will not have control over them anymore. 

Their influence will be via regional representative groups of no more than 12 members. These groups - 50 percent council members and 50 percent iwi - will appoint members to the four water entities, who will be independent. 

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta in Parliament.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

Mahuta said the reforms will save Aucklanders from higher water costs in the coming years. 

"Aucklanders are already facing within the next couple of years a doubling of their water bills under the existing system. And under the existing system, Auckland is faced with a constrained balance sheet where Watercare has to defer investment into water infrastructure. 

"The mayor knows it, that member may not, however the truth remains - Auckland still gets advantage from being a part of these reforms."

You can read more about Three Waters here.