About 120 people braved frigid conditions in Rotorua to protest the Government’s Three Waters reforms.
Organised by the New Zealand Taxpayers Union alongside local group Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers, the convoy, which snaked through Rotorua from Te Puia to Government Gardens, was the latest of about 44 stops of a nationwide “roadshow” campaign.
The Rotorua stop follows Williams' time in Tauranga, where he spoke with Local Government New Zealand president Stuart Crosby and Sustainable Bay of Plenty Trust’s Glen Crowther about Three Waters. View the discussion here.
The reform would create four new water entities responsible for the three waters – drinking, waste and stormwater.
The Water Services Entities Bill is currently before the Finance and Expenditure Committee.
Taxpayer’s Union spokesman Jordan Williams told Local Democracy Reporting the purpose of the campaign is “doing what the Government isn’t” by listening to locals’ concerns.
He says the reform would mean a “loss of local control” and increased bureaucracy, as well as higher water costs, flowing on to higher rates.
Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams. Photo / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post.
Williams says ratepayers would get a better service from calling the council “down the road” than a new regional entity.
Under the proposal, Rotorua would fall into Water Entity B, which would comprise of 22 territorial local authorities (TLAs), including Rotorua Lakes Council.
The authorities would collectively appoint five or six members to the regional representative group, as would mana whenua.
The regional representative group would in turn appoint an independent selection panel, which itself would appoint and monitor the entity's governance board.
The board would be accountable to the regional representative group.
The district council had not yet declared its position on the reform.
Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers chairman Reynold Macpherson – who is also a district councillor - told the assembled protesters the reform is “so contrary to public interest” and harmful to democracy.
Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers chairman Reynold Macpherson. Photo / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post.
He describes the reform as a “confiscation” of assets and says the modelling the Government relies on as a justification for the reform is “unreliable”.
Councillor candidate Robert Lee says the reform and its co-governance element could mean “mana whenua decide everything”.
Reporoa Residents and Ratepayers Association committee secretary Karen Barker told the crowd she believes the reform would result in a “multi-layered bureaucracy” with those in power appointed, not elected.
“Rotorua will be one drop in a big bucket [as part of Entity B].”
Reporoa Residents and Ratepayers Association committee secretary Karen Barker. Photo / Andrew Warner / Rotorua Daily Post.
She calls on those gathered to put more pressure on the council to oppose the reforms.
Department of Internal Affairs Three Waters reform programme executive director Hamiora Bowkett says the department has engaged with local government, iwi and water industry representatives for four years.
"Everyone agrees that the status quo is not acceptable.”
He says the plans are underpinned by “strong analysis by international experts” and “absolutely” stood up to scrutiny and peer review.
"This analysis demonstrates that all New Zealand households will benefit from reform wherever they live, through increased investment in infrastructure driving improved services and more affordable charges than would otherwise be the case.”
Bowkett says the reform plans are consistent with “effective successful reforms” in other countries in recent years.
“The new water services entities will be held accountable to their customers on pricing and the quality of services more rigorously than current providers of these services are.”
He urges the public to have their say by making a submission to the select committee and to seek out factual information about the reforms on the department’s website.
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson says the council would review its position on the reforms at a full council meeting on Thursday and he would reserve any comments for that discussion.
The council organisation did not wish to respond to the claims made at the protest.
It is expected the campaign will visit six more towns and cities, before concluding at Kerikeri on July 3.
-Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air