Three Waters ads a “missed opportunity”

Tauranga City Council commission chair Anne Tolley says the awareness campaign was a missed opportunity. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.

"Imagine Aotearoa without good water. That'd be rude as, eh?”

Everyone remembers the Government’s Three Waters reforms advertising campaign, where cartoon people were unhappy with poor quality water.

A voiceover says The Government was working to ensure Kiwis could keep drinking straight from the tap.

“That's why we're working with councils to make sure it doesn't happen for real. So now, instead of them having to shoulder this burden, we're grouping them together, to keep everybody on the path to better all-round water,” the voiceover espoused.

The campaign appeared to do little to gain support for the reforms, based on the opposition expressed by many residents and councils across the country.

A Stop Three Waters movement has formed and last year a group of protesters gathered outside Tauranga City Council chambers to express their objections.

The ad campaign. Supplied image.

As well as receiving 48 complaints to the advertising standards authority, the campaign has been labelled a “missed opportunity” by Tauranga City Council commission chair Anne Tolley.

“Our view is the Government advertising campaign undertaken to raise awareness of the reforms was a missed opportunity,” says Tolley.

“The working group has also highlighted an opportunity for improvement in Government’s ongoing communications and engagement with the public to build understanding of both the direct impact and the broader context of the Three Waters reforms.”

Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby agrees with need for better communication.

“LGNZ pushed hard for better public communications from the Government throughout the reform process,” says Crosby.

“So, we were very pleased the working group also highlighted the need for much stronger and clearer communications to ensure the public understands these complex reforms, why they’re necessary, and the benefits they’ll bring to New Zealand communities.”

The independent working group of 20 local government and iwi representatives was set up to advise Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta on how to address concerns over the government's proposal to have drinking, waste and storm water management handed to four regional bodies instead of being managed by 67 councils.

The group released its 47 recommendations last week, which include, a communications campaign to explain the 'need for change' to the nation and the establishment of sub-groups to ensure local voices are considered in investment prioritisation.

It also recommends a Water Ombudsman be put in place to oversee Water Service Entities’ interactions with water users and a public shareholding model to help protect against privatisation.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta acknowledges, the advertising campaign is one of the areas of the Three Waters reform programme she “underestimated”.

“There was a high level of sensitivity from local government around that campaign because they felt that they were getting blamed for issues that these ads raise,” says Mahuta.

“I acknowledge that decades of under investment in water infrastructure is within the council purview, but the messaging in the advertising campaign wasn't targeted in such a way where people understood the full context of these systemic issues and the problem we are trying to fix.

“Going forward, the need for reform is absolutely clear and I am heartened by the unanimous agreement of this from those in the working group.”

Local Support

Western Bay of Plenty District mayor Garry Webber is one of the working group members and he is in support of the reforms, despite them having “minor benefits” to the district in the short term.

“There will be minor benefits to the Western Bay and that’s on the basis that the majority of our operations are compliant and operating reasonably well,” says Webber.

Western Bay of Plenty District mayor Garry Webber. File photo: SunLive.

He says the reforms are needed for the region’s future growth and to create continuity across the sector.

“It's not just the pipes and the pumps in the ground. There is a lot of systems behind this,” he says.

“The pipes in the ground, the pumps, the processes are exactly the same for Western Bay as they are for Tauranga City, Kawerau and Ōpōtiki.

“Why can't we have one standard for our pipes, our pumps, and all of those things where there is some commonality,” says Webber.

“By getting together as a sector, across New Zealand, there's a whole lot of best practice we could employ.”

Tauranga City also scores well for its water services. It is one of the top five councils in the country in terms of delivering drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

Even with this strong position, Tolley says the environment councils are operating in is changing.

“Increased environmental standards for wastewater and stormwater will require expensive upgrades to meet future national standards and community expectations, and climate change pressures also mean that the delivery of existing levels of service will become progressively more costly,” she says.

“If we keep doing things the way we have in the past, it’s likely that the future cost of three waters services will become unaffordable for our communities.”

The reforms could also strengthen council’s financial position by removing current and future three waters debt from its balance sheet, says Tolley.

Webber says there is a flip side to this in that council’s no longer collect revenue for water services through the proposed model.

In regard to the working group recommendations, Tolley says council will take time to consider them from a Tauranga Moana perspective and form a view as to how well they address the concerns raised by the community and mana whenua last year.

Working group chair Doug Martin says the group received an overwhelming message from the sector that the status quo isn’t working, and reform is needed.

“We are proposing a model that places our waters and the health of our communities at the centre of all decision making, it retains public ownership and ensures local representation.”

Mahuta says Cabinet will consider the working groups’ recommendations before finalising reform plans and introducing legislation.

“We know it is important to get this reform right for every New Zealander,” says Mahuta.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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Well AJ

Posted on 17-03-2022 14:41 | By Kancho

Councils can’t get enough funding no matter how competent. They have to abide by conditions set by government on borrowing. Ratepayers can’t be squeezed much more so government should provide a financial plan to assist as it’s our taxpayers money they spend. So far the only thing they have attempted running was kiwibuild so what competence does that show. They are proposing a multi layered bureaucracy and 185 BILLION DOLLAR SPEND.! Just some of that collosal amount would fund every council to carry on infrastructure building and repair. There is clearly a middle and better road. Seems the commissioners were in charge of Smartgrowth for years one being the chairman and Stuart Crosby was mayor from 2004 to 2016 and they want us to believe that relinguishing local ownership and democracy is all good . This government will reap as it sows come election going down in history for mismanagement.

Tom Ranger

Posted on 17-03-2022 14:39 | By Tom Ranger

The council is incompetent. So is the govt. But the three waters campaign is set to incur a massive increase in costs for all and a theft of ratepayers assets as well. Terrible governance.

Council Confidence

Posted on 17-03-2022 07:21 | By AJSommerville

Great to see how many commentors have so much confidence in our local Councils that think they should keep running water services. It is funny that these same people are the ones who always make comments about Council’s incompetence

Return Gst

Posted on 16-03-2022 12:11 | By Johnney

Rates are a tax and we pay gst on this tax. If the government refunded councils the gst and brought in stricter controls and standards for all councils to invest and maintain water infrastructure then this would be more palatable. Big is not good. Look at Aucklands super council. Suppose to be efficient and save costs. Has done the complete opposite. Hands of.

Stay away from 3 Waters.

Posted on 16-03-2022 11:26 | By TheCameltoeKid

These Commisioners responsibilities are to the people of Tauranga and most of these people don’t want 3 Waters. If the Commisioners sign up for it then they need to resign. This civic centre debacle should be enough for them to go.


Posted on 16-03-2022 10:02 | By Kancho

The commissioners will follow the party line. This is all about stealth and putting in place things that the electorate haven’t been informed of. The next election is critical for a return to democractic process this government is trying to avoid to slide in policies not put before New Zealanders. The by election needs a good turnout to send the message by not voting for their candidate regardless of whether they are nice

So the campaign begins

Posted on 16-03-2022 09:06 | By Kancho

Still taking assets of the ratepayers . Still ignoring that all that’s needed is better funding to assist councils with infrastructure not throw the baby out with the bath water. The elephant in the room that fifty percent of governance will be selected by iwi which is not the will of the people called democracy. This should be held until the elections as the government has never taken this to the vote. It’s nonsence that publicly owned assets should be taken and nonsense that water should be governed not on merit or experience but by race. No position is advertised based on who your parents were . Nor that levies can be applied by iwi on water. Water isn’t owned by anyone it falls from the sky only the infrastructure is owned but it’s by ratepayers who have developed and paid for it for many decades .

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