GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Watershed moment for democracy

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Who owns our freshwater? And who, if anyone,should have the right to sell it ? Two questions we are ignoring at our peril.

Environment Canterbury recently approved plans by Chinese owned Cloud Ocean Water to extract fresh water from a 186-metre deep bore at its Christchurch bottling operation to sell overseas.

There was no opportunity for the public to make submissions because the independent Commissioner they appointed to make the decisions – Richard Fowler QC – did not think hearing from the public was required.

It is reported that Cloud Ocean paid $2277 for its current 1.57 billion litre annual water take.

Now the water bottling company has bought more land with the intention of sinking more bores to mine Canterbury water for overseas sale.

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(Christchurch water is particualrly prized for its purity because it filters down from the Souther Alps over hundred of years into the cities acquifers) .

Why the lack of public consultation ?
Why if this foreign company – and others – able to exploit our fresh water supplies at such cheap costs.

Well, part of the reason lies in our neoliberal free market /free trade economic policy.

In 2008 the Helen Clark government negotiated the first free trade deal with the then emerging economy of China.

There was jubilation,particualrly in the dairy sector, because it allowed Fonterra to set up operations in that country. But of course Free trade deals have to work both ways and so Chinese companies could set up operations in New Zealand.

Now I doubt the Clark government even thought that would mean fresh water mining in our country but it’s here and one reason the government may be reluctant to tackle the issue of who owns the water is because they don’t want to pick a fight with our largest trading partner.

However to continue to ignore this issue is to iturn a blind eye to the fact that our democracy is being diluted with every water consent decision , such as the Cloud Ocean one in Christchurch, that is not opened to public consultation.

So Government really does have to tackle the issue of who owns New Zealands freshwater and how it shoudl be administered and in doing so It must consider the rights of Maori under the Treaty .

Indeed the Treaty may well now be the only way we can prevent foreign companies exploiting our natural resources because the creation of new trade treaties should not undermine the rights of citizens under any existing treaties

So where are you Greens? Where are you Eugenie Sage? You wanted to govern and now you have your chance. Let’s hear from you.

 

Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.

20 COMMENTS

  1. A lot of the problem stems from farmers not wanting to pay for the water they use. If a price is put on water for bottling then that means farmers will have to pay for it too.

    The other issue is that if a financial value is put on water, then that means it becomes a Treaty of Waitangi issue and a lot of New Zealanders don’t want to see Maori have any rights to water.

    So in a way, New Zealanders are the their own worst enemy when it comes to giving away water for free

      • Fiji put a levy of 15 cent/litre on its exported water. It is now a major source of government revenue.

        1.57 billion litres extracted @ 15cents/litre = ~$235 million dollars in revenue that could be shared between the NZ government, iwi and Christchurch City Council.

        That sounds a lot better and fairer than the $2277 they’re currently receiving.

        • If NZ exports 1.57 billion litres of water they presumably end up in 1,57 billion plastic bottles most of which finish up destroying our oceans. THe plastic will be a byproduct of oil, which we are supposed to stop exploiting. Once again the externalities arent being costed but Kiwi’s will certainly carry the cost.
          Didn’t Eugenie Sage claim that so long as the water mining was economically viable, NZ cannot refuse a licence? Obviously she doesn’t understand economics.

  2. The biggest problems is that NZ are naive and lazy with zero long term strategy or protection of NZ when they enter into free trade deals and prefer to pretend that there is no problem. Like having no climate change clauses in free trade agreements while stating that climate change is our nuclear free moment, then they fail to see any hypocrisy and do nothing when people point it out to them…

    When the oil and gas industry was tightened up, a friend of mine sat next to some MBIE consultant on a plane, who was going on how great oil and gas was for NZ etc, the issue is that many public sector roles are dependant on these industries being viable here, if they go then their job goes as well so they only have one opinion, Go oil and Gas or whatever the hell they are advocating.

    Likewise with free trade, our free trade consultants and lawyers will be out of a job if free trade agreements end, and they take years to negotiate while you get to fly around and pretty much do nothing while being paid extremely well… so why would your advice to government be to give it up???

  3. When the Chinese manage to be able to buy NZ land but apparently Kiwis can’t be Chinese land… oops land of plod lawyers strike again with another screw up..

    I also notice how whenever NZ firms go into China partnerships they lose money but whenever Chinese go into NZ, they seem to take over and make loads of money often with free or cheap local resources like water…

  4. Water is not only essential for our survival it is also sacred. Access to drinkable water should be a human right & the birthright of all New Zealanders.

    Until this right is enshrined in our constitution or bill of rights those with $ signs in their eyes will continue to profit from our governments stupidity & inability to regulate.

    If our government continues to turn a blind eye to this matter & refuses to act, then sabotaging the infra-structure of those who’re profiting from our weakness would be a patriotic course action to take.

  5. The concept of ‘ownership’ is an interesting one indeed.
    Ownership implies title to something, a right to use the item or resource as a result of having given compensation to the previous ‘owner’ or titleholder for its perceived value.
    Maori claim they ‘own’ various bits of land in NZ. If this is true, who did they buy it from?
    The land has existed for thousands of years before they arrived.
    The same goes for water. It’s been here long before man ever set foot on NZ soil.
    In which case, there is no original owner. Nobody ‘owns’ it.
    It’s a natural resource for the benefit of those who live here.
    Not for the wholesale removal to be sold for profit overseas.
    If you want to extract it from the ground and bottle it, fine – but the water stays here and does not leave the country.
    You either sell it here, or you drink it.
    If you sell it, then you pay a percentage of the sales back to the government.
    If you extract it from the ground for irrigation purposes then there’s no money to change hands because the water stays here and eventually returns back into the ground.
    If this madness of allowing the water to be taken and sold overseas continues, and expands as the chinese see fit then where will it end?

    • Some good points here. Another is it’s high time we put a surcharge on all plastic & glass containers & packaging to encourage reuse & for the purpose of growing of an R&D recycling fund.

    • Maori claim they ‘own’ various bits of land in NZ. If this is true, who did they buy it from?

      The general idea in economics is that if unclaimed land was worked then the person who worked it owned it.

      And, of course, Māori claimed all the land anyway whether they worked it or not.

      The same goes for water. It’s been here long before man ever set foot on NZ soil.
      In which case, there is no original owner. Nobody ‘owns’ it.

      Which is, of course, false logic designed to appropriate the resources from the owners.

      It’s a natural resource for the benefit of those who live here.

      There’s a problem with that logic as well as it assumes that only humans count.

      If you extract it from the ground for irrigation purposes then there’s no money to change hands because the water stays here and eventually returns back into the ground.

      Wrong. Our aquifers are depleting because the farmers are taking too much. This means that, under market conditions, we need to put a price on it and restrict how much is taken.

      In other words, our aquifers and waterways are a scarce resource and use needs to be limited.

      If this madness of allowing the water to be taken and sold overseas continues, and expands as the chinese see fit then where will it end?

      With NZ turning into a desert but that’s true of our present farming practices as well.

  6. Russell Norman I think was the turning point for the Greens to lean more toward neo-liberalism as opposed to traditional Green ideals. James Shaw, who literally worked for bankster interests at HSBC, has further only composted what was already imo a wholly non-organic GMO weed. Co-opting parties is what banks and corporations do – it’s why global Corporatocracy is only a few years away (if we aren’t there already), making Democracy nothing but a false choice given that all of the parties are beholden to the exact same corporate masters.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatocracy

  7. All of our resources in the land are actually owned by the government. That’s why you need a licence to do mining on any land that you ‘own’.

    The exceptions seem to be water and anything else used by plants to feed themselves.

    Time to remove those exceptions and to put a realistic price upon water. Until we do we’re going to get these companies coming here and turning us into a desert for profit.

    • DTB, I agree but if the Government of NZ owns the resources on the land on behalf of the people, then it follows that it should own the land itself. Land should not ever be for sale – It should be available only on long term loan. The resources, whatever they are, would require a licence for extraction; that includes water. I would have thought that was obvious.

      • I agree but if the Government of NZ owns the resources on the land on behalf of the people, then it follows that it should own the land itself.

        Technically, it does:

        Who really owns the land?
        Let’s be honest –we all consider ourselves to be land owners. With the exception of land which is held under Māori sovereignty, freehold land in private ownership is not really ‘owned’ in the true sense of the word. All we have is an ‘estate’. Under current New Zealand law, we’re still in much the same situation as William’s subjects.

        It seems that very few people actually realise that privately owned land isn’t actually owned by the title holder.

        I, for one, would be fully against changing that as well.

        The resources, whatever they are, would require a licence for extraction; that includes water. I would have thought that was obvious.

        The problem comes down to tradition. Basically, because we haven’t traditionally charged for water (or many other resources) we have a lot of people (who usually benefit from not having to pay) saying that we shouldn’t start charging now. This is despite the fact that the economic theory that we happen to be operating under says that we actually need to be charging as its the charge for the use of scarce resources that is supposed to encourage the most effective/efficient use of those resources.

  8. We, New Zealanders, should be able to freely use the water that falls on New Zealand.
    We should be charged only if the water we use goes back onto the land unnaturally polluted.
    If water exporting continues it should not be sourced freely because it is coming from the publicly owned land of New Zealand.
    I also do not believe water should be exported because the polluting costs of plastic packaging and the fossil fuels that are burnt to transport water to other parts of the world have not been factored in. I have just returned from months of sailing SE Asia and the amount of plastic in the sea ( much of it plastic water bottles ) is totally despairing.
    There is also a query in my mind about how much water could be sent to another part of the world without upsetting the natural eco systems of an area. New Zealand evolved in this seemingly water abundant environment. Better the importing countries clean up their own act, work towards depopulation and start desalinating seawater.
    What have the countries we are currently contemplating exporting our water to done about living sustainably with their own water? Have they exhausted all options? Have they even started to find alternative ways of water management in their own countries? I do not think so . I saw no evidence of it. Grabbing , demanding NZ’s water is the easy way.
    I will not be voting a party that taxes water or supports the exporting of water.

  9. In Auckland we pay for our water – water rates. Equally ridiculous is that we are exporting this limited resource. Christchurch water is exceptionally lovely water so we should making especially strong efforts to conserve it.

    I thought ‘te ahi kaa’ was about the land being owned as long as the home fires kept burning on it: when iwi moved around they maintained their claim to land as long as they kept using it. Different iwi owned different parts of Aotearoa. I am not an expert obviously, but I think the point I make is closer to historical reality than the other posts on this issue.

    • “I thought ‘te ahi kaa’ was about the land being owned as long as the home fires kept burning on it: “
      Also not an expert. But it would seem that the ‘te ahi kaa’ concept may be one of many, not a singular all encompassing truism.

      There were seasonal customary rights for food and resources, rights of access and travel, to think of a few others.

      The ownership of land for pre-settler Maori was more fluid than titles and possession.

    • In Auckland we pay for our water – water rates.

      Technically, we don’t.

      We pay for the reticulation of water. The water itself is free.

      Equally ridiculous is that we are exporting this limited resource.

      But, but, but – someone’s making a profit and that proves that it’s being used efficiently.

      /sarc

      Yeah, I hate the present economic theory that we use that actually says just that. Climate change is proof that its wrong.

      I thought ‘te ahi kaa’ was about the land being owned as long as the home fires kept burning on it: when iwi moved around they maintained their claim to land as long as they kept using it.

      That is full classical economic BS.

      Nobody get to own the land and the government is there to protect it from excessive exploitation.

  10. For any politicians reading this – the water rights issue is huge, and needs proper guidelines and laws asap.
    It will decide how I vote, if this makes any difference…
    Put Andrew Little on the job, he seems to get things done.
    The solution maybe to put New Zealanders right to clean water before China. Hard I know.

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