AM's Ryan Bridge pushes PM Jacinda Ardern about dumped entrenchment clause in Three Waters legislation

The Prime Minister has skirted questions over how much she knew about the controversial Three Waters entrenchment clause on Monday. 

On Sunday the Government dumped the clause after claims it was "constitutionally objectionable".

It came after Newshub obtained a letter sent to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta from the president of the Law Society earlier this week, raising "serious concerns" about the provision and urging it be removed.

House Leader Chris Hipkins said in a statement on Sunday putting the clause in was a mistake and the issue would be fixed when Parliament resumed on Tuesday.

On AM on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked whether she knew about the clause when she voted in favour of the legislation. 

The Prime Minister initially said she discussed the legislation at Caucus last week but didn't make it clear whether that included the entrenchment clause. 

"I think the important thing here is that regardless we are taking ownership of this as a team," Ardern said. "It was a SOP (Supplementary Orders Paper) that came from another Party but we as a team when it came before the House voted in favour of it. We agree that was a mistake, not because of the subject matter - we don't want to privatise water assets, but because of the use of entrenchment. 

"Entrenchment…is commonly understood to be where you need a supermajority to change anything. Our view is yes we should have some guardrails when and where that is used so we will be fixing it," she added.

AM co-host Ryan Bridge then asked her why she said last week the entrenchment clause was not necessarily something she would be aware of when it had been discussed in Caucus when she was present. 

Ardern said her recollection of the conversation was about SOPs and her point was every individual amendment wouldn't necessarily go before Caucus. 

"I confirmed yes, this general issue was discussed," Ardern added. "I haven't gone into more detail than that because of protecting the provision that we don't generally talk about what happens in Caucus but I think the most important thing is regardless of that, we are accepting as a team that yes a mistake has been made and we are fixing it."

But Bridge pushed back, saying surely it is "important for people at home to know was this just incompetence, negligence was there something machiavellian going on here that you did know about the provision but you're now claiming…"

But Ardern jumped in saying, "sometimes these things are actually just simple - a mistake was made". 

Bridge then asked how the mistake was made and Ardern said generally entrenchment is understood to have a threshold of 75 percent, not 60.

"The provision that went before the House was 60 percent, it was a novel approach," Ardern said. 

"Regardless our view is that using that provision we do need to be cautious about when that happens so that's why we fixed that, that's also why we've proposed in the future it would be useful for all parties in Parliament to come together and have a discussion around when those kinds of provisions come up because now we have seen a situation where the threshold has been dropped and it's been…"

Bridge then jumped in again and said, "but you did that and that was the point - we still don't know how it happened so in order to stop it from happening again shouldn't we find out what happened?"

"Again I think it is important to point out this was not a change or an amendment that was drafted by the Government or a Minister, it was from another Party," Ardern said. 

But Bridge jumped in again asking, "Did you read it? You would have read it right?"

Ardern pushed back on the interruption saying: "I think the context is useful Ryan because again, I think actually the context helps a little bit because we will have a number of amendments that will come through from other parties, a number of them for any given Bill there could be well over a dozen depending on the Bill. If it's controversial, there can be hundreds. 

"So this was put forward by another party. Yes, we voted in favour of it. Our view is we shouldn't have done that. We are fixing it and in fact, we're doing it in quite a speedy way. Usually these fixes can take a long time because the debate on the Bill is not finished. It will probably take an hour. It needs to be fixed and that's what we're doing," Ardern said. 

"Did you know that it was 60 percent entrenchment during that caucus meeting?" Bridge questioned.

"I've already given an answer to this issue multiple times," Ardern responded. "Entrenchment is commonly understood to be 75 percent."

"So did you think you were voting for 75?" Bridge clarified. 

"I think I've still given as much explanation on this as I can without becoming repetitive," Ardern responded. 

"Yeah, I know. But the thing is, it's not really a good enough explanation is it? Because what people don't know is actually what happened in that Caucus meeting, whether you found out in that meeting about the 60 percent entrenchment, whether you had a problem with it then, or whether the problem only emerged once you were told about it later," he said. 

Ardern responded: "Again, as I've said, the conversation around entrenchment is commonly understood to be 75. What was put before Parliament was not that.

"Regardless, we are taking ownership of this as a team. And I actually think that's what people want to know when you see a problem. What do you do about it? And we are fixing it as quickly as we can," the Prime Minister said.

"Are you saying you would have been happy to vote for 75 percent, which would be even worse, wouldn't it?" Bridge pushed. 

"Well, actually, again, I think the reason for entrenchment, of course, is that you create a supermajority where basically that's a situation where you have as many parties in parliament supporting it. And so just to be clear, to put in place an entrenchment provision, you have to have that number engaged in it as well. So the idea is that you get cross-party support for something."

Bridge then questioned again whether she thought she was voting for 75 percent, Ardern said no but didn't clarify what she thought. 

Watch the full interview above.