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Stunning about-turn by Rotorua’s Council over 3 Waters Reform

The Agenda for the Rotorua District Council’s meeting of 30 June 2022, published two days prior (and one day before the Rotorua “Stop Three Waters” protest), included a brief report by the Council’s Deputy Chief Executive¬†– Infrastructure and Environmental Solutions, Stavros Michael entitled “Three Waters Reform Position Refresh”.

The report expressed some concerns about Three Waters reforms but concluded:

Our clear intention is to be supportive and constructive in the effort towards a viable and sustainable new 3 Waters management framework, and we hope our position paper contributes to the further development of the reform proposals.

It was therefore surprising to watch Mr Michael’s presentation to the Council meeting unfold. His presentation soon began to depart from his report saying some of the issues with New Zealand’s water services were “overstated” by the Government and some of its rationales had been “misleading”. He described the governance structures as “extremely complicated” and talked about “overhyped efficiencies”. This Daily Post article provides more detail of Michaels’ presentation.

It was more surprising to watch Deputy Mayor Donaldson, who was chairing the meeting in Mayor Chadwick’s absence, propose a pre-drafted motion in line with Michael’s presentation, which was seconded by Cr Macpherson.

Even more surprising was watching the Mayor’s majority, with the exception of Cr Maxwell, support the motion.

The motion began:

It is agreed that Council does not support the government’s Three Waters reform proposal. The identified issues being:

    • an ongoing lack of clarity on many key aspects of the proposal;
    • a central concern about the likely lack of responsiveness of the proposed reforms to the future needs and aspirations of the Rotorua community;
    • a view that the proposed governance structure is overly complicated and unlikely to provide effective direction;
    • a lack of clarity of future costs arising from overhyped efficiencies
    • a lack of consultation with the Rotorua community;
    • a view that the centralised nature of the entity will result in a loss of flexibility to respond to local, unique and mana whenua requirements;
    • an approach to transition that overly relies on Council resources to the detriment of existing work programmes;

We direct staff to submit to government the identified concerns, that Council direct staff to continue to engage with the implementation group but not to the detriment of existing work programmes. 

It should be noted that the motion falls short of complete rejection of Three Waters. Council staff have been directed to “continue to engage with the implementation group, so this Council could potentially change its mind if the government addressed the above concerns.

Was the about-turn by the Council the result of the Stop Three Waters Protest organised by RDRR, in conjunction with the NZ Taxpayer’s Union and the Reporoa Residents and Ratepayers Association, a day earlier? Or was it a realisation by local iwi that other iwi from out of the district would be co-governing Rotorua’s Three Water assets?

Whatever the reason, yesterday’s stunning about-turn in the space of 48 hours was a significant step towards rejecting the Three Waters Reforms outright. It may prove to be the death-knell for Mahuta’s proposed reforms.

Robert Lee
RDRR endorsed Councillor candidate