It’s no wonder local councils are rebelling against LGNZ
The following is an opinion piece by Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.
Local Government New Zealand President Stuart Crosby resorted to name calling in a recent opinion piece, calling the thousands of New Zealanders who emailed local councillors about Three Waters “wilfully ill-informed keyboard warriors”.
This is a desperate attempt to find a scapegoat for the crumbling support for the Government’s Three Waters proposals, which LGNZ are supporting.
New Zealanders’ opposition to the Three Waters proposal has spilled over into anger at LGNZ for their support of the reform programme. Ironically LGNZ’s president accuses the reform’s opponents of playing fast and loose with the facts for political gain.
Crosby, in an opinion piece published by stuff, suggests New Zealanders are victims of deception, while refusing to explain exactly what he think that deception is.
Which ‘facts’ does he dispute? That the reform will introduce four layers of bureaucracy between ratepayers and the new water entities? That the Government’s own peer review found the touted financial benefits to be detached from reality? Or that 60 out of 67 councils have signalled either an intention to opt out or major concerns with the reforms?
LGNZ’s president returns to the tired justification trotted out by proponents of the Government scheme that greater efficiencies from economies of scale will translate to more manageable debt and more affordable water costs. The theory goes that the absolute loss of local control over water assets is simply an acceptable for tradeoff for these hypothetical financial benefits.
This theory is undermined by two simple questions. What incentive will unelected water monopolies have to keep costs low? What guarantee is there that councils will provide commensurate rates relief to offset the new water bills charged to ratepayers?
Some councillors are surprised that the president of LGNZ is supporting such fundamental reforms opposed by his member councils.
There is a very simple reason LGNZ is playing puppet for the Government on Three Waters. The organisation signed an agreement with central government which sees it receive taxpayer funding in exchange for a commitment “to build support within the local government sector for the Three Waters Reform Programme”. This sits at odds with Mr Crosby’s claim in his opinion piece that LGNZ “tends to stay on the side-lines” in this debate.
In other words, LGNZ’s support for Government’s Three Waters plan is bought and paid for.
This shady deal was signed without consultation with LGNZ’s member councils. That’s despite the reforms promising a fundamental transfer of control over billions of dollars’ worth of local assets.
It’s no wonder that a growing faction of rebel councils is denouncing LGNZ, with Timaru District Council voting to leave the body, and others set to vote on doing the same.
Blinkered by central government dollars and underestimating the strength of ratepayer pushback, Stuart Crosby has backed his organisation into a corner, pushing an absurd false dichotomy that councils must either support the reforms or perpetually endure crumbling pipes. Hawkes’ Bay councils’ independent proposal for regional amalgamation show us there are other options.
In the end ignoring your constituent members and launching ad-hominem attacks on their ratepayers isn't going to make their concerns disappear. With legislation not having yet reached Parliament, the debate over Three Waters has just begun.