Ngāi Tahu blast 'retired politician' Winston Peters for 'ludicrous' criticism of Three Waters reform
Ngāi Tahu has blasted Winston Peters’ “ludicrous” opposition to the Government’s Three Waters reform, saying “it’s just the same predictable, attention-seeking antics from a retired politician”.
Peters, the former deputy prime minister, on Wednesday decried the Government’s move to compel councils to participate in the reform of drinking, waste, and stormwater, saying it would create a “system of apartheid" by handing ownership of water assets from “all Kiwis ... to one group based only on race”.
The attack, labelled “not helpful” by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, referred to the Government’s intention to provide iwi representatives seats at the strategic governance level of four new water entities, which are planned to assume control of the country’s water infrastructure from councils in 2024.
Ngāi Tahu have celebrated the Government’s decision to push on with the reforms, saying their involvement in a South Island water entity will ensure water assets “will never be privatised”.
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In an incendiary statement on Thursday, Dr Te Maire Tau, co-chair of Ngāi Tahu’s freshwater group said Peters, was repeating an “incorrect claim that the three waters reforms will transfer ownership away from ‘all New Zealanders’.”
“In fact, the new water service entities will be owned by the same councils that currently own three waters assets.
“It’s just the same predictable, attention-seeking antics from a retired politician who put his personal hunger for publicity ahead of the common good for decades.
“If Mr Peters wanted to talk about different treatment, he could come and visit the half of Ngāi Tahu villages that are not on reticulated council-owned water supply.”
Tau said the country’s voters “have made one thing clear – that they want Mr Peters to enjoy his retirement and spend more time in Whananaki”.
Peters, responding to Ngāi Tahu on Thursday, said he had “struck a nerve” and he alleged the South Island iwi was part of a “covert, secret agenda” to bring about the reforms.
"Apparently, all of this has been done by Ngāi Tahu to guarantee a future against future privatisation. So where did this threat come from? ... In short, 67 councils were in control, and who said they were going to privatise?” Peters said.
Some councils around the country have raised concerns the Government’s reforms might open the door to privatisation of water assets. The Government has said this would be unlikely to occur due to a requirement the new entities gain sufficient support from board members, and 75 per cent support for such a move in a public referendum.
Peters said the inclusion of iwi on the governance of water entities was “preference of one race in New Zealand”.
Mahuta has said there would be a 50-50 split between council and iwi representatives on at the strategic governance level which choose the water entities boards.
“How could that possibly be democratically correct? Just look at the ethnic makeup of this country, how could that possibly be correct?” Peters said.
Despite the claimed secrecy, Peters said the reforms weren’t a secret to him when he worked with Labour in the prior coalition Government between 2017 and 2020.
“I just made sure it didn't happen ... It was a very, very putative stage and none of this was part of it. Since we've gone, you've seen a different animal appear immediately.”
He said it had always been the case that water infrastructure needed reform, but he wanted the control to remain with local councils.
Mahuta on Thursday said Peters’ claims were “not the case”.
"This is about systemic underinvestment in waters infrastructure and finding a solution to a problem that's been around for a very long time. I'm not going to kick the can down the road on this, it's too important.
“In fact, any conversation that is based on misinformation, racial undertones is not helpful to getting to a solution and that's what I'm dedicated to doing.”