Three Waters fourth way
So, what’s happening with the Government’s Three Waters reforms?
You may recall that councils across New Zealand were given eight weeks (which turned out to be closer to 10) from the Local Government Conference in July to provide comment on the draft proposal put forward by government.
The anticipation was that feedback from councils would be considered by government and fed into the final proposal.
That final proposal is due late October.
Your council’s feedback consisted of 10 points that can be found on the council webpage.
These mostly mirrored the concerns raised by other councils around the country.
What your council didn’t do was to reject the draft proposal and essentially walk away from the reforms as some other councils have done.
The reason for that I hope is fairly obvious.
Isn’t it better to remain in a process, getting your point across as much as you can, until such time as a decision has to be made?
I think this is especially so when the final government position may be conveyed by force, not choice.
There is no doubt that the current reform proposals are unpopular, and I doubt any amount of tinkering is going to change that.
This leaves the Government four options in my view.
Firstly, it could give up on the whole thing.
The problem with that though is that the heavily increased costs in the Three Waters sector won’t disappear.
If there is one message everyone needs to remember it is that there is no status quo and that the reforms are an attempt to find ways to lessen those cost increases.
The second thing Government may choose to do is stick to the course of letting councils opt in or out of the final proposal, but I question whether it will do that, given the sentiment of councils across the country.
Thirdly, it could simply change the law and make the reforms mandatory.
That is the right of a majority government, but it would be a very risky call politically.
So where does that leave us?
Increasingly I see a fourth option coming forward and that is the Government rolling the Three Waters reforms into the Future for Local Government Reforms, gaining the efficiencies it feels are needed through bigger councils rather than the current plan.
I look forward to the announcement with great interest and trepidation.