Media Release: Water Users’ Group takes legal action against Government and Three Waters

December 16, 2021

A group of water users is taking action against claims made by the Minister of Local Government to justify giving some Māori the effective control of more than a hundred billion dollars of ratepayer funded three waters assets.

The Water Users’ Group Inc came together in November. On 3 December it started court action alleging errors of law in the Minister of Local Government Hon Nanaia Mahuta’s Cabinet papers on the Three Waters scheme . The Bill she is pushing should not proceed until the court has ruled.

“We say the Three Waters recommendations are based on serious errors of law. They claim pan-Maori interests in water and sewage pipes and treatment plants that the law does not sustain,” Water Users’ Group spokesperson Stephen Franks explained.

“The Minister told Cabinet that Māori have ownership rights in water infrastructure. They don’t. Some iwi or hapu might have some rights to some springs or other water sources or bodies. Their claims have been ducked for two decades. They should be decided. But even if they are confirmed they are not rights to water infrastructure.

“The Three Waters assets belong to the communities that have built and operated them. Nothing in the Treaty says there are pan-Maori rights, let alone rights to take and control physical community assets not even imagined at the time of the Treaty.

“It is as misleading as it is dangerous for the Government to assert then act on unfounded and untested statements that such interests extend to concrete and pipes and machinery and sewage ponds clearly owned by local government on behalf of the New Zealanders who have together paid for them.

“The Minister’s advice breaches the Crown’s duty to act with reasonableness, fairness and justice to all New Zealanders including Māori,” Stephen Franks says.

“This means the Minister’s advice on governance arrangements, including membership of the Regional Representation Group and the role of Te Mana o te Wai statements starts with false premises.

“It suggests a predetermined outcome without regard to the proper purposes of management and control of public assets. Hon Nanaia Mahuta should have been relieved of responsibility for critical water services reform when it became clear she was putting her sectional interests ahead of the general public interest. Her responsibility was to fix water services problems for everyone, not to pervert that need to a scheme for unlawful discrimination to benefit a few.

Stephen Franks says Three Waters is overwhelmingly opposed by the ratepayers of the country’s 67 councils.

“Our case was prepared when it looked as if most Councils were not going to consult and they seemed to be colluding with the Government to ignore the ratepayers. We had to be willing to tackle the elephant in the room that seemed to have turned Councils into vampire food. Now, thankfully, many Councils are fighting against effective confiscation of the ratepayers assets. But they are still being mealy-mouthed about arrangements that should be ruled right out of any alternative governance structure.

The Minister recommended taking the water services assets to give to four new entities, allegedly so that they would be more attractive to mortgage to foreign lenders. Much of the detail is unclear but the proposed co-governance seems inimical to that claimed purpose. The cabinet papers show few protections against extraction of rents for consents using fake claims of cultural concerns.”

The Water Users’ Group is an incorporated society formed to combine the research and lobbying strengths of anyone who depends on water services (businesses, councils, or individuals). It will resist confiscation of assets funded over more than a century by water users. It intends to be a long- term collective voice and collaboration centre for otherwise dispersed and easily exploited water users.

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