GUEST BLOG: Niki Gladding – Prime Minister Ardern on 3 Waters – misleading or mis-led?


The Prime Minister’s performance on Q+A this morning (Sunday 31 July) must have had her comms people on the edge of their seats, nails in teeth, waiting for the worst.  What makes her gaffes so concerning is that she didn’t know she made them.  Unfortunately, neither did her interviewer.

Jack asked about co-governance of the 3 Waters Entities via the Regional Representation Group (RRG).  He asked whether, if democracy is ‘one person one vote’, the governance structure of the RRG is democratic, and do Pakeha (and other New Zealanders) have the same representation as Maori?

The question was both simple and complex, with a potentially divisive answer.  The simple answer should have been ‘no’; whether that matters or not is another question.  But, as most politicians will do when faced with having to give an answer that will make the 6 o’clock news (and not in a good way), she deflected…

It was a response that should have opened up a can of worms for the PM because it calls into question her understanding of what is probably the most impactful and nation-defining Bill this government will ever consider.

She essentially said that the governance arrangement wasn’t as significant as Jack was suggesting because (and here’s the gaffe) the power still sits with the owners, with the Councils.  To be exact she said:

  • “The ownership rights continue to sit with local government and those local councils”
  • “The ownership sits with local people”
  • “For most people power sits with ownership and ownership sits with local government”

At this point, Mayors and councillors and other informed citizens across the country were spraying their morning cuppas across their living rooms.

By now, the PM should have read both the Bill and key submissions from local government.  She should know that existing ownership rights will not (as she said) “continue to sit with local government”.  At this point the Bill confers only one power to council ‘shares’ – that is the limited potential to avert complete privatisation, via a vote.  Councils’ ability to give any other direction is removed by the Bill. And there are no ownership responsibilities at all – they can’t even choose to bail out the Entities to protect their assets.

As for the ownership sitting with local people, the Bill provides no democratic link between local people or local councils and the RRG.

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There will be vigorous agreement that ownership should come with power.  But that’s the point – in this case, it doesn’t.   And the PM should be acknowledging that.

She then comforted the nation by assuring us that the RRG will set the Statement of Intent (SOI).  Wrong again – the unelected Entity Boards will write the SOIs and the Bill gives the RRGs no power to change them.

Jack missed both key errors and kept pressing for an answer to his original question, missing a moment of journalistic triumph.

At best, this shows that the PM does not understand the fundamentals, let alone the details, of the draft legislation.  At worst, we are being deliberately misled.  I prefer the former because I see it in local government too: governance being overwhelmed with all the change and all the information that comes with it, and a consequential reliance on carefully managed briefings.  It’s a scenario that undermines our democracy, decision by decision and that is being enabled by this Government’s huge and patronising centralisation agenda.

This 3 Waters governance model originated under a National Government.  Infrastructure NZ leapt into action after the Havelock North contamination event – they organised a delegation to Scotland and essentially ‘sold’ aggregation to the DIA and Treasury.  The missing ingredient at that point was co-governance, which was then handed to the Labour Government in the same way you might give a lollipop to child if you have important work you need to do and you don’t want them to get in the way.  A nice, sweet, pacifying distraction.

It’s now time for the pollies to come down off the sugar rush and do the hard work before it’s too late.  Actually read the Bill, understand the Bill, consider submissions, and then front the public with the unembellished truth:  there is no council ownership; there is no meaningful governance (for Maori or anyone else); there are loopholes allowing asset sales, provisions enabling 35-year ‘joint arrangements’ with foreign corporates; and significant risk of privatisation.

This is industry-driven reform that will benefit industry.  It’s an indictment of governance and our media that, instead of talking about that, we are still broadcasting misleading statements and publicly squabbling about co-governance.

Niki Gladding is a Queenstown Lakes District councillor, sitting on QLDC’s Infrastructure Committee and Climate Reference Group.  Niki co-founded Aotearoa Water Action in 2018 and has spent the last five years challenging consents granted to 2 foreign water-bottlers.  She supports mana whenua partnering with councils to govern three waters assets.”


  1. So, there are two choices about the PM’s interview:

    She was being duplicitous.
    She is incompetent and/or uninformed about the biggest Bill before her Government.

    Neither is good.

      • I was going to say the same. She either didn’t read the legislation, she did read it but doesn’t understand it or those who read it for her and are advising her on what it means, are lying to her?

        I wonder why someone would do that and I wonder who that person could be????

        • I think the narrative you’re after is “she didn’t write it” (the bill). Reading a bill is just for marketing purposes. Only those who write there own literature can truly understand all of the hidden plot device’s.

        • Who is “she” BG? I don’t think any of us read these bills but then we take someone else’s interpretation as correct. The publicly available copy of the Bill would indicate that Nikki’s comment on the power of RRG’s over the statement of intent is very much debatable. Unless there is another version

    • Or Ada, Sponsored Contents comment below is correct and Nikki is not. This says that the RRG’s have to approve the strategic elements of the SOI. I think Sponsored Content is correct from reading the Explanatory Note of the Bill and further Section 28 outlining the role of the RRGs….. clause b

      (b) participating in the process of setting the entity’s strategic direction and performance expectations under subpart 4 of Part 4;

      • As I said to Sponsored Content, try finding a clause that sets out the process for the RRG to amend the SOI. There isn’t one. They have to agree it and they can’t direct the entity (according to the Bill – I forget which clause but you’ll find it).

        • Sorry, not sure why I used two k’s in your name Niki. My bad.

          So is saying the bill has no process outlined the same as saying the RRGs have no power? The bill says the RRGs must approve the strategic direction but it does say the RRGs have to amend the SOI? It’s that up to the entity to revise until it’s approved?

          • Good England! I meant to write ‘does it say the RRGs have to amend the SOI?’ and ‘isn’t that up to the entity?’

            • The issue is the clear difference between the process set out in the LGA for amending an SOI which gives the Council the ownership power of setting a CCO’s SOI vs the process set out here which is as follows: RRG tells an entity what it would like to see, the Entity writes the SOI, Entity gives it to the RRG for approval and takes feedback… but what happens if the RRG doesn’t like it?? The RRG representing the ‘owners’ and iwi (50/50) can’t direct the Entity to amend the document.
              That’s the Bill and perhaps we can still legislate for that power of direction ut it seems to me S&P might not like that (??)

            • No process = no power… under the law, yes. The RRG has influence but can’t “direct” (by law) and so any power will come down to relationships.
              It’s very different from the power council owners have to amend the SOIs of their CCOs and that’s clearly deliberate. At the behest of S&P perhaps (??)

              • Ok there’s no disputing this is completely different. I am not clear from reading the explanatory note why it would be the RRG (as approver) who would change the SOI. The RRG does not draft the SOI in the first place, it’s the board of the entity.

            • Also worth noting that the RRG can’t remove the Board for a writing a disagreeable SOI – removal powers are essentially limited to misconduct

            • Also worth noting that the RRG can’t remove the Board for a writing a disagreeable SOI – removal powers are essentially limited to misconduct

        • The initial annual SOI needs the draft to be approved by the RRG regarding the strategic elements before it can be finalised, with the RRG able to make changes without agreement with the board.

          There is mention of amending the SOI, but it is by the board rather than the RRG, with the board needing to give notice to the RRG.

          Given that it is the RRG who is responsible for who is on the entity’s board, and for reviewing the performance of the entity, it is hard to see how the RRG is really powerless over the board.

          • There may be some power in the relationships between the Board members and the RRG but it’s not power that’s backed up by the legislation. Read s68 and the definition of ‘just cause’ in s68(4). Again, unlike the CCO provisions in the LGA (which allows councils to remove board members if they don’t follow direction), the RRG can’t remove the Board for drafting and refusing to amend an SOI it doesn’t like.
            The legislation gives the illusion of control, but in reality it’s just guidance

  2. Well a lot of people have been saying for years that she lacks substance and is only a PR and marketing tool. That could be her next gig with Sachi & Sachi?

    • Thanks Shona and I hope you you choke on the faeces at the school that came up through the waster water system the council controls in the recent Christchurch flooding. Seems the council has total control on things.

      You’re welcome in advance.

      • I am sorry Bert but as a Chch citizen there has been so much rain here lately that I am building an ark and sent a message to Bishop Brian to be the captain . No matter who was in charge of the water there would have been bad concequences.
        3 Waters is going to be the a millstone around Labour’s neck that could sink them and their spokesperson is not doing them any favor.

        • Good infrastructure Trevor would deal with excess rain, it happened after two foods in my hometown of Thames in the 80s and 90s. They ripped up the roads redid the piping and it has never flooded since despite copious amounts of rain and floods up the Thames Coast which destroyed the roads.
          If you are happy to continue with a system which is broken without trying an alternative approach, then expect to get the same results.
          A millstone in your eyes maybe but that’s just a negative perspective.

  3. The problem is, it is the neoliberals leading the blind neoliberal followers who don’t have a clue what they are proposing.

    VERY concerning that the PM doesn’t even understand what she sells, proposes, implements and supports.

    Not just his the unemployment insurance, the hate speech, 3 waters, the polytechs.

    Consultants and insiders are just printing themselves more money with these unworkable, bankrupting, undemocratic management schemes.

    They need to actually stop all the new disasters and try to fix the current disasters in Kainga Ora, drugs, low wages, poverty immigration, Oranga Tamariki, transport, before destroying more agencies and the people of NZ’s lives, with more (little understanding of) bad laws.

    Everything Labour did has gone wrong since the 1980’s, from making student pay for tertiary fees, to having one maternity advisor only, tomorrows schools. to selling off state house land with Kiwibuild, (before buying more housing back at massive prices).

    Labour are best when they don’t have any new brain fart ideas, that decades later are still destroying lives. They still don’t realise they implant the policies that the Natz then get into power on, and take a lot further by privatising.

    • Why should tax payers pick up the bill for students?
      These are people who are either going to:
      * Benefit greatly from the education, or
      * Will not generate any benefit at all for themselves or NZ (womyns studies anyone)?

      I paid fees for my education as did my wife and whilst not rich, we have certainly benefitted from our respective educations. Why should someone who works as a labourer subsidize that for us?

      • The same is true for why other taxpayers seem to be subsidising the unemployed, pensioners including many foreign pensioners these days, 60% of all working families and minimum waged workers, corporate welfare to industries like construction, power (Rio Tinto) supermarkets, tourism so they can keeping paying bottom dollar and attract foreign workers to NZ’s low skilled, low wage economy.

        Students are just part of helping NZ create skills that our economy needs. Now we don’t do that, and pay low wages to boot, skilled people are increasingly leaving as they have huge debts in their 20’s. Now our tertiary is getting to be such a basket case, more NZ students will be choosing not to bother or go to another international university on scholarships.

        Why bother working and training in NZ with 33 -39% income taxes, 12.5% student loan taxes, GST 15%, Kiwisaver 4%, ACC, new insurances for unemployment, etc etc…. You could just be poor, not study and work, and get a nice new Kainga Ora house that is constantly being promised to be built, supermarkets with free food, subsidised medical treatments etc….

        NZ is out of sync with grabbing and redistributing too much of other peoples labour and taxes to those who are the new virtue signal class and really just working out it’s not with working in NZ anymore on our low wages.

      • The problem with the “I’m not paying for someone else’s training” idea is that it has permeated our society to such an extent that we have to import the skills we need, while those with qualifications & skills head off overseas to earn money to pay off their student debts. I could double my earnings if I took my degree back to Australia, it is always very tempting.

        We as a society benefit by opening doors for our young people and not just burdening them with debt. We also benefit by having trained & qualified doctors, nurses, IT specialists, electricians, plumbers, scientists etc. We as society benefit by training our young people so they can get good jobs, earn higher incomes, contribute to our community & pay tax, rather than import questionably qualified foreigners to fill the vacancies while our youth rot on benefits or in jobs that lead nowhere.

        • I taught at university for a period of time and I can assure you the problem isn’t that not enough people are qualified. It is that not enough people are generally competent.
          About half my students should never have been on campus without a bucket and mop in their hands.
          Additionally, we have introduced tertiary education for careers such as nursing which used to be adequately services by vocational training.

          • Of course, that’s why we have to import plenty of “highly skilled” foreigners, because most Kiwis are too stupid, too lazy or too drug-addled to be of any use to employers.

            I would agree on the whole qualification creep. Employers demand ever more paper qualifications rather than asking if you can actually do the job. This just tends to fuel the education industry and ballooning student debt.

  4. I wonder how many of us think we currently ‘own’ and therefore have ‘power’ over our water assets? Continued ability for free foreign water extraction proves we do not have any control over it.
    Auckland’s water has been a debacle since back in to 80’s at least; the answer – drink more of the Waikato’s effluent.

    • Water is free. Just allow people to start collecting it!

      Water should be first used for the community and then the country it is in – and not wasted with individual profiteering.

      Water bottles themselves are very polluting for the environment not to mention selling water for virtually nothing to companies, while those who live in NZ pay a fortune for CEO’s and endless self serving bureaucracy on $680k per year like Water Care in Auckland.

      3 Waters is just gearing NZ water up for privatisation while adding more cost to the structure with another layer of management on top of the endless lower managers and structures already in place. 3 Waters is already costing millions in consultants and PR – raising the cost of water in NZ.

      It should be in the building code that everyone has to collect drinking water off their roof and collect grey water for gardening. Easy fix to help Maori and everyone else get free water.

      Non permeable surface ratios are a joke as the maximum areas are generally exceeded by developers. There are big environmental costs of diesel and dog pooh in the wastewater and massive mansions being built.

      There are loads of simple problems with water that could easily and cheaply be solved just by simple practices. But that does not feed the neoliberal machine it just helps stop pollution and water insecurity for all in NZ.

      If they implement this, then all the money the government saves from not implementing the disastrous proposal of 3 Waters and the water subsidies they will need to start making for the masses to afford water, they can spend on helping our health, housing and education system!

      • ‘3 Waters is just gearing NZ water up for privatisation while adding more cost to the structure with another layer of management on top of the endless lower managers and structures already in place. 3 Waters is already costing millions in consultants and PR – raising the cost of water in NZ’.
        A: Got Proof?

        • Have a look at what happened to our banks and power companies and what’s happening overseas. NZ is getting seriously in debt with little interest in changing to a higher economy, low and behold they will sell assets to pay for all the overspending they need to do, because they have expanded poverty and crime here.

        • Water is a free resource that falls from the sky. Why are we paying a fortune for all these people to manage it, de centralisation is the future in a climate changed, disaster and pandemic prone future, not centralisation.

  5. JA’s comments on the 3W ownership was technobabble in that ownership of the water assets remains with the councils but control goes to the government. everyone knows this, especially Jack, so like Martyn and the rest of the audience who have a brain, we aren’t fooled by Jacinda’s play on words. just another example of this government misleading the voters. I thought Jack was doing well before he literally forgot what his job was. Doesn’t matter, the rest of us could see the omission in his questioning clear enough. It would have been interesting to hear what bs spin she would have come up with had she been asked the right question.

    • Nothing wrong with councils owning and Central Govt controlling water.
      It all depends on who ‘owns’ and ‘controls’ local and central government.
      We all know that ‘democracy’ under capitalism is a sham.
      It’s a euphemism to cover up the hold that monopoly capital has over the state apparatus.
      So short of overthrowing the central state (what is the point of doing that to local govt) and giving citizens direct democracy in a workers’ state we are left with the immediate problem.
      How do we stop privatisation of water and the failure to meet the needs of the people for free, accessible and sustainable 3 water delivery?
      Our immediate objective should be to close all the loopholes in the Bill to the corporatisation and creeping privatisation of water.
      The scope of the existing Bill that could be amended by turning the regional entities into electoral bodies so that all the decisions about control of the 3 waters are made by direct democracy.
      That would put so-called ‘democracy’ that everyone craps on about to the test and prepare for the ground for the real test of democracy in the future.
      That is: taking back the the ownership and control of all ripped off and stolen public and private assets including water over the whole history of colonisation.

  6. So often I have seen TV interviewers in NZ go in with a prepared set of questions. They run through the questions but don’t have the wit to actually listen to the answers or have the wit to see an opportunity to prise open the interviewee.

    • Many of them dont have the skills to think on their feet which is why I like Simon Bridge the more I see him because he pretty much always catches the lies and keeps pushing. But clearly this generation’s journos have been taught to apply a bit of performance art to the govt’s scripted agenda.

      I dont watch the MSM generally but cant help wondering why they dont seem to have mentioned the nearly 100K submissions made on 3 Waters?

  7. How many Crisis has she solved and how many more Crisis has she added to the long list of Crisis?
    She did and has ‘talked’ a lot about how her government was going to tackle these Crisis and solve them like the Housing Crisis, the Child Poverty Crisis as well as the poverty Crisis and the Homelessness Crisis and the Health & Education Crisis as well as the Terrorism Crisis and the woke, fake Climate PR & Marketing Crisis and finally the Bullshit Crisis this centre right neoliberal Labour government in Crisis is talking about in the High Court for their dodgy donations and Empresses ‘new’ Robe that was acquired at a night of bidding for baubles for the Prime Minister.

    That’s a lot of Crisis going unresolved ay?

  8. why the big hurry about things? they are in such a hurry to make new zealand smoke free.. do climate things where nz prolly couldn’t even help by 1percent in the world. its like the world is going to end . they need to slow down. rethink things carefully. just jumping in the deep end.. changing things and realising they cant continue. how bout fix thins that need fixed b4 fixing that .. that does not need fixed

  9. She then comforted the nation by assuring us that the RRG will set the Statement of Intent (SOI). Wrong again – the unelected Entity Boards will write the SOIs and the Bill gives the RRGs no power to change them.


    From the bill:
    The Bill requires the board to prepare and adopt
    -a statement of intent
    —in which the strategic elements must be approved by the entity’s regional representative group; and
    —setting out the forecast service performance and budget of the entity:

      • I think the issue is that the bill is full of loopholes that basically boils down to maintainance and cost cutting exercises to fit with in local council voter expectations over rates.

        Creating twenty first century water infrastructure to last throughout climate change just isn’t possible when the water system is already well past capacity. We just dump human shit straight into the Hauraki harbour.

        Point is that the real cost which for political purposes can not be factored into voter expectations.

    • There is no process for amendment of the SOI. There’s provision for some discussion if the RRG don’t like the SOI but the draft legislation prevents the RRG from directing the Board. So, no teeth.

      • I don’t think we need insider information or a watch dog with teeth to govern water. The public will tell us everything we need to know.

      • [Not sure why previous responses have not appeared.]

        The RRG decides who is on the board. They have the authority to assign and dismiss board members. The RRG is also responsible for reviewing the entity’s performance.

        While the board is responsible for the annual SOI, a draft needs to be submitted to the RRG before it is finalised. The RRG needs to approve the strategic elements and is able to do so without agreement with the board.

        Once finalised, amendments to the SOI can be made by the board, but notice needs to be submitted to the RRG.

        Basically, the RRG is involved before a SOI is finalised, needs to approve the strategic elements with or without the board’s consent, has to be notified of proposed changes the board wishes to make once the SOI is finalised, while retaining the ability to dismiss board members.

    • Yes Messers Content and this is where the rubber really hits the road – because the representative group is disproportionately loaded with Iwi representatives. Hence the co-governance and hence why the Prime Minister if being truthful should have answered No – this model is not democratic. It is simple – like any business, OWNERSHIP represents a fat rat’s backside if you don’t have CONTROL. 3 waters gives Iwi disproportionate CONTROL of our water infrastructure. You can be for that or against that but you cannot argue it is democratic.

  10. Niki, great article. You say Co-Governance was “handed to the Labour Government,” – do you mean by National who used it with the management of some natural resources? Labour has elevated it to a central policy item, proposing to co-govern both Health and Water. The Co-Governance in Three Waters stands out to me as an undemocratic outrage, yet you say there is no governance. The Water Service Entities have to react to Te Mana o te Wai statements, do you not think that is governance?

  11. “there is no meaningful governance (for Maori or anyone else)”
    I think you’re wrong on this, Niki. The right for iwi and hapu to write Te Mana o Te Wai statements whenever they like, that the Water Services Entities are effectively obliged to follow, give them huge power.
    Non-Maori have been excluded from doing the same (even though council reps on the working group last year asked explicitly for that right to be given to them too. They were turned down).
    Some will say that TMoTW statements are restricted to environmental concerns but the DIA has made it clear: “Te Mana o Te Wai [statements] will enable development of mauri frameworks, application of mātauranga Māori measurement or any other expression that iwi decide is relevant to them.”
    Once matauranga Maori is on the table, anything goes.

  12. Thanks Graham – I was about to ask Niki about that very issue as I’m really interested in what she thinks of them. BTW – thanks Graham and Niki for continuing to call attention to this clusterfuck-in-the-making.

    Te Mana o Te Wai statements look like they will cause three very serious problems:

    1. Democratic erosion – so much for liberal / representative democracy if one ‘racial’ group can game the system to get whatever they fuck they want by injecting these statements, and other groups have no say.

    2. ‘Racial’ division and magical thinking – this is part of a process of increasingly privileging one cultures ‘spirituality’ (i.e. magical thinking) over others, and over the supposed secular foundation of NZ. I predict we will see lots of discussion about implementing pseudo-religious concepts like Mauri, and being forced to give wait to what is essentially religiosity. We are supposed to be a secular country, and should not cause massive downstream cultural conflict by privileging Mauri religion etc over secular society or other cultures beliefs. One cultures religious/magical thinking belongs at home, not in governance and management of everyones critical infrastructure.

    3. Practical management problems – how are the different water entities supposed to govern and implement management & operational plans according to a strategic direction, if an Iwi can randomly create these statements and change them at will? This is the last thing you need when trying to plan and manage physical assets.

    This whole thing reeks of stupid politicians with no understanding of governance and management, designing something just so they can strap the chicken to get a race-based separatist agenda through. And you just know the bureaucrats in Wellington love this because it a) creates more bureaucracy to employ people like them and b) they get to virtue signal to their in-group about how much they are doing for Maori when in fact they are doing nothing and the material well being of Maori continues to suffer.

    Wrong on all levels!

    • Hi nukefacts. I think your analysis is exactly on the money.
      I agree that the Te Mana o Te Wai statements are significant (and very dangerous) because they can be anything an iwi / hapu feels like on the day – and the supposedly “independent” Water Services Entities that run the day-to-day operations are obliged to follow them (or have to have very good reasons not to).

      Most people are certain they are just environmental statements (such as pollutants entering streams etc). When I had an email discussion with a city councillor who was writing a lengthy submission a month ago, he agreed with me that TMoTW statements were binding but passed them off as of little concern:

      “Yes they will have to act on the te mana o te wai statements. But in effect, their main impact will probably be as an environmental impact activity.”

      I think he’s dead wrong. In fact they can cover absolutely anything that can be justified by reference to matauranga maori or tikanga etc. If an iwi doesn’t want a dam built they will be able to say it doesn’t “respect” the mauri of the river or whatever. Or maybe it is the lair of a taniwha (which has been done before with the Waikato motorway). Or maybe just because the iwi decides (as Tipa Mahuta did over the request for Auckland to draw more water from the Waikato) that not enough “respect” is being shown to them as custodians of water.

      I think Jason Smith is correct when he says it will give iwi power over every pond and stream.

      The fact that the four Water Services Entities will be subject to the whims of iwi will mean the chances of one or more of them going belly up are high. Given there is an implicit govt guarantee for the billions of dollars in debt, once the govt decides it is politically unpalatable to bail them out any further we will be delivered into the tender hands of international investment funds which specialise in “distressed” debt.
      As one leveraged finance lawyer told me: “They will make the likes of BlackRock and Goldman Sachs look like the good guys.”

  13. The most impactful and nation-defining things any government will ever consider is what is on the 6 o’clock news and next morning radio.


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