Three Waters: Newshub understands Nanaia Mahuta didn't tell Labour caucus of 60 pct entrenchment

The Government has had a messy cleanup job on its hands unwinding an entrenchment clause in the controversial Three Waters Bill that's been labelled a dangerous precedent. 

But while the Government has admitted a mistake, no one is prepared to take responsibility.

It's cleanup on aisle Three Waters.

"A mistake was made and we're fixing it," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Parliament voted to entrench public ownership of water assets in the Three Waters legislation. Entrenchment usually requires a supermajority of 75 percent of MPs but this was passed with just 60 percent - redefining entrenchment.

"It was a dangerous precedent in terms of our democracy," said National's local government spokesperson Simon Watts.

Entrenchment is usually only used for matters of electoral importance like voting.

"There's multiple things that contribute to mistakes being made and as far as I've ascertained that's what's happened in this case," said Ardern.

"We have the grovelling backdown but the stain on our democracy, the damage to our constitution will remain," said National deputy leader Nicola Willis.

Multiple people should have known about the 60 percent threshold. That includes the minister in charge of the Bill, Nanaia Mahuta, along with at least six Labour members of the committee that considered it. 

But the message didn't get through.

"I was not aware that we were going to vote in favour of the 60 percent entrenchment clause," said Labour's David Parker.

National is questioning what on earth happened.

"Why was it that the minister did not recognise that this was a mistake?" questioned Watts. "What exactly occurred to lead to this screw-up?"

No one will say who told who what or how it happened.

Not the leader.

"Caucus discussions as a general rule of thumb, we don't discuss publicly," said Ardern. 

Not the Leader of the House.

"I'm not going to comment on caucus conversations," said Chris Hipkins. 

Not the whip who cast the vote. 

"The issue was discussed at caucus and I'm really happy that I absolutely cast my vote in accordance with the wishes of caucus," said Dr Duncan Webb. 

Not the minister in charge of the Bill.

"I'm not going to say what happened in caucus," said Mahuta, when asked if she told her caucus about the 60 percent threshold. 

But Newshub understands Mahuta did not let the Labour caucus know the Greens were proposing a 60 percent entrenchment threshold.

The Prime Minister covered for Mahuta and claimed collective culpability. 

"We're taking this as a team, we voted for it as a team, we're fixing it as a team."

A team of 64 and not a single one to blame. 

Jenna Lynch Analysis

This is the second recent case of a significant policy slipping past the goalie and having to be unwound. It has shades of the tax Bill that was introduced with a Kiwisaver tax in it that the Government then had to back down from.

The problem is Labour has been on the attack over National's many policy U-turns but they are doing these policy doughnuts themselves.

The difference is Labour has the incredible power of the state behind them and a U-turn in opposition has nowhere near the ramifications of a Government making the mother of all U-turns on a matter of constitutional importance. 

With the Prime Minister refusing to go into how it happened, it leaves her and the Government wide open to accusations that this was a deliberate move, that they wanted this entrenchment, they got found out, and the mistake was not a policy mistake, but a political one.