Three Waters: Democracy down the drain

New Zealand’s water infrastructure needs fixing, and it’s going to be expensive.

Ratepayers’ desire to avoid that expense has mandated councils to procrastinate large› scale upgrades for generations, but at last the trickle of water contamination scandals has grown to a deluge of ‘‘boil water notices’’.

Pooled resources and economies›of›scale are solid arguments for centralising the nationwide upgrade, yet Three Waters is the most contentious political issue of our time. Why?

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan has repeatedly referred to a power imbalance between local and central government (a PC term for bullying) and called for a national referendum.

Along with everyone else, he’s cited lack of transparency

— even stealthiness —on the part of Government, causing a storm of misinformation to further muddy the waters.

Even pro›reformers don’t deny the vacuum of information and lack of debate, exacerbated by their own habit of cancelling every voice of opposition as ‘‘misogynistic and racist’’ (Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins), which flows to the most contentious point of all:

‘‘The Regional Representative will be 50:50 local government representatives and mana whenua representatives . . .’’ reads the summary of Three Waters cabinet papers.

The most contentious point is this proposed appointment of Mana Whenua (1. (noun) territorial rights, power from, authority over land — Te Ake Maori Dictionary).

Essentially, many suspect Aotearoa is headed for water privatisation with a perceived ‘‘Iwi Incorporated’’ manoeuvring towards this monopoly.

This suspicion is representative of wider concerns over the powerfully trending partnership/co› governance approach to Te Tiriti o Waitangi altering understandings of democracy, sovereignty, private property, education, media and discourse in an era when many now openly refer to democracy as ‘‘the tyranny of the majority’’.

What Crown/Iwi Partnership means for citizens who are subjects of the Crown is still unclear.

Quizzed on the matter, Otago Daily Times partnership editor Ken Tipene said, ‘‘These are all conversations that need to be had.’’

Where are these conversations?

On the occasions media dares to platform ‘‘partnership debate’’ it is not to consider whether the majority approves, but to discuss the possible outcomes of a fait accompli.

As for ‘‘the opposition’’, National has pledged to repeal Three Waters reforms, yet former National Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson said of co› governance, ‘‘I simply say to people, there’s a new regime, get with it folks.’’

Labour won a majority in 2020, but as the New Zealand Taxpayers Union website says, ‘‘Labour did not campaign on these reforms during the last election.’’

We need new water infrastructure, but our need to address rapidly multiplying constitutional changes made without public consultation is far more urgent.

It has become incumbent on New Zealanders to oppose and defeat Three Waters, not because it won’t work, but because of the way it’s being implemented, and because it appears to spearhead more complex and contentious reform.

At the very least it should be forced to referendum, on the principal of reminding elected leaders they are governing in a democracy.