Any speculation the Government might yet ditch controversial Three Waters legislation has been quashed with the Leader of the House confirming it will pass before Christmas
Analysis: With an election roughly 12 months away, the Government will be hoping voters will have forgotten their anger and upset over the centralisation of the country’s Three Waters by the time they return to work in the new year.
The splits and divisions over how to fix New Zealand’s water infrastructure has been wide-reaching with urban and rural communities as riled up as each other.
Councils needing help paying for system upgrades have sat on one side of the argument versus those that have a bigger ratepayer base and don’t want to carry the financial load of others.
Getting the Water Services Bill passed in next month’s sitting block puts reasonable distance between the at-times ugly debate and an election looking increasingly likely to be set down for November next year.
It’s the ripping-off the band aid approach, which has been used by many a government in decades gone by.
A recent example was former Prime Minister John Key when he pushed ahead with selling off parts of State-Owned Enterprises in 2013 despite a public poll showing deep opposition.
Key got re-elected for a third term in 2014 – something that won’t have been lost on Jacinda Ardern.
Three Waters is just one of many pieces of legislation being progressed through the House under urgency this week as the Government clears the decks before summer.
Parliament is expected to sit until the end of Friday but could flow into Saturday depending on how much debate there is.
There are 24 bills, all at varying stages of the legislative process that are proceeding through urgency this week, to make up for lost sitting time when the House rose for a week to mourn the passing of the Queen.
Four of those bills will go straight through without being referred to select committee.
“The third reading’s not occurring under urgency so that demonstrates we’re giving greater space for debate, not less.” – Jacinda Ardern
The legislation that has garnered the most public criticism is the Water Services Bill which will create four new publicly owned water entities to run the country’s storm, drinking and wastewater through centralisation.
The pushback from quite a few councils has been severe – particularly since the local government elections early last month – prompting renewed speculation the Government may back down on the idea.
But on Wednesday, Leader of the House Chris Hipkins told Newsroom he was confident all stages of the bill would pass before Christmas.
To try to take the sting out of any accusation from the Opposition that the Government is ramming the bill through urgency to prevent serious scrutiny and debate, only the committee stage is being progressed this week.
The third and final reading of the Water Services bill is set down for the two-week sitting block in December before Parliament rises for the summer break.
Hipkins told media on Wednesday many of the bills being dealt with under urgency had already been through the “rigorous scrutiny” of a select committee.
“They are largely technical and relatively uncontentious bills … we’re doing things like pushing out the deadline for healthy home standards and making the changes announced yesterday to clean car standards.”
Hipkins said he would be “surprised if anyone was surprised” by any element of the legislation being progressed.
“It’s a choice – people could have more consultation but then they wouldn’t have the certainty of knowing the [healthy homes] deadline has been extended.”
The Prime Minister pushed back on any suggestion urgency was being used to truncate the debate on Three Waters.
“The third reading’s not occurring under urgency so that demonstrates we’re giving greater space for debate, not less,” she said.
More than 100 changes were made to the bill as a result of the work done by the Finance and Expenditure select committee, and Jacinda Ardern said that showed the Government had listened to the public feedback and taken it into account when making amendments.
ACT leader David Seymour says the number of bills being dealt with under urgency shows how “disorganised” the Government is.
National’s Christopher Luxon described it as “irresponsible” and in the case of Three Waters, “completely mad”.