C4LD: Stop the wasteful spend, seek a way forward says Councils

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Published: 03 Mar 2023

It’s time for the Government to stop its expropriation of community property and seek a new way forward for water reform, say Councils.

In their submission to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, members of Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori (C4LD) have submitted that with only eight months to go to a general election, widespread and consistent public opposition and no parliamentary support outside of the Government, it’s time to pause the reform and recalibrate.

The group points to the significant number of amendments to the original law, being considered in a significantly more compressed timeline to the previous bill, and that with the proximity to the election the Government needs to seek an electoral mandate.

C4LD Co-Chairs Manawatu Mayor Helen Worboys and Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon said that it’s time to stop wasting millions of dollars to force through a model of reform that very few people want.

“This policy has a long history of mis-steps from promising then reneging on councils having the choice whether or not to participate, to the perfunctory and rushed public consultation, to the constitutional issues caused by entrenchment,” Worboys said.

“Compounding these issues is the recent judicial ruling showing it is simply not true for the Government to claim that councils would still own the assets generations of their communities had built.

“The ruling also highlighted the significant loss of any local influence in decision making, meanwhile the Bill gives any future receivers of these highly-leveraged companies, if they fail, the ability to put a charge on every household in their area to recoup the debts.

“This Bill takes all the assets and all the influence away from local communities, but still enables the companies to rack up billions of dollars of debt on their households.”

The group has also picked up a number of other issues of serious concern in the Bill, including the Government giving itself a free ride at the expense of water users by exempting itself from Water Infrastructure Contribution charges without any rationale for doing so.

There was also issue with the company billing through the current rates system, reducing transparency and accountability for consumers, and for the companies’ regulatory functions to be undertaken by an internal staff member acting ‘independently’.

“There are numerous flaws to this legislation, and we’ve only had the opportunity to highlight some of the most concerning,” said Gordon.

“Despite public talk of resetting and rethinking, the fact that the Select Committee is processing with this Bill at speed indicates that the Government seems to be hell bent on railroading us all to a destination very few people want to arrive at.

“Behind all the talk we still have public officials and an army of contractors working at breakneck speed and massive cost in the background to embed this reform past the point of no return, even before the legislation has passed.

“This reform is too important to be a parliamentary punchbag or an electoral talking point. On reform as important as this ideally there should be cross-party support.

“We all want to deliver great services to our communities, we need to switch tracks and work together to design a long lasting reform that will survive past the next eight months.

“There are a range of credible, common sense alternatives on the table including the most recent policy announced by the Leader of the Opposition.

“Prime Minister we just want to work with you and the Government to get a result that everyone can agree with.”

Mayors Helen Worboys and Dan Gordon will be presenting via Zoom to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on behalf of Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori on 6 March at 10am.

To read the Communities 4 Local Democracy He hapori mō te Manapori submissions on the water reforms, as well as our plans for a better reform that everyone can support, visit: communities4localdemocracy.co.nz/ideas

Last updated: 03 Mar 2023