On Monday our President Sanchia Jacobs, Chief Executive Karen Thomas, and Chief Advisor Raymond Horan appeared before Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Committee to discuss the Taituarā submission on the Water Services Entities Bill.
As a managerial organisation our role is to clarify and improve rather than support or oppose the Bill. Our opening statement offered the Committee our assistance in making the Bill workable.
We made four key points
- Government support will be needed to give effect to the Bill. Central government is giving itself a wide range of powers to ‘control’ the entities. This includes an upfront power to direct the water entities (through the Government Policy Statement (GPS): Water) to give effect to what could be a wide range of government policy objectives. What isn’t included in these provisions is anything that gives central government any skin in the game by providing the Water Service Entities with funding, guidance etc.
- The accountability of the Water Service Entities to the users of water services and to the wider community needs strengthening. We would like to see explicit requirements in statute that provide for a mix of territorial representatives and a process to ensure this is achieved. The regional panels are critical to the success of the model – we see a need to clarify the role of the regional advisory panels is to represent the views of their local areas, as well as setting some clearer obligations around when that input must be sought. Entity boards should have expertise in three water services – but also in customer service and customer engagement. We’ve also recommended a suite of amendments to the planning documents. These tend to add to the transparency of core matters such as the entities' funding and pricing, and asset intentions.
- The transition powers are very broad. The Secretary and the Department have been given very broad powers in the transition (including the power to get directions enforced by Court order). These come against a backdrop of other reforms, the 2024 Long-term Plans, and constraints on the availability of external resources. Our submission made a couple of steps that the Secretary should take before making requests. We also have some suggestions to make the review process more responsive.
- There is a lot more to do on water reforms. Issues such as the funding powers; the interface between waters, urban and growth planning; the more detailed operational powers such as rights to enter property; and the crossover with other legislation are all to come. These day-to-day issues go to the very success of the reforms with many of the public. Part C of our submission represents some of our early thinking on these matters – and one or two that the sector raised with us during our engagement.
The Committee had clearly engaged with the submission in some detail. In addition to some more general questions regarding the engagement process, we were asked several questions on individual recommendations and parts of the Bill (e.g. did we think the Bill had sufficient safeguards on Water Service Entities' ability to review their constitutions, and did we think an obligation to keep charges affordable should go into the Water Service Entities' constitutions). Each of those asking questions – including members from the Government, the Green Party and National thanked us for the submission using phrases like ‘comprehensive’ and ‘helpful’.
It seemed to us that the Committee is well aware of how much there is still to do, and that there is concern about the alignment with this and other reforms and other legislation (Resource Management Act (RMA) and the spatial strategies especially).
View our full submissions
Read the Taituarā written submission.