The Privatisation Two-Step: Is Three Waters A Masterpiece Of Misdirection?


IF CABINET FAILS to scrap Three Waters and start again, New Zealand may very quickly come to resemble Bolivia. Not the Bolivia of today, where a socialist government elected by a huge majority holds sway, but the Bolivia of 1997. That Bolivia had been ordered by the World Bank to privatise its water – on pain of being refused the loans it so desperately needed to keep its economy afloat. Taken over by French and American corporations, Bolivia’s water resources were very quickly priced beyond the reach of its poorest – that is to say, its indigenous – citizens.

Unsurprisingly, the Bolivian Government soon found itself in the grip of a massive popular uprising. In 2005, after five years of unrelenting struggle, the indigenous Bolivians forced their government to terminate the concessions granted to the French and the Americans.

In place of these foreign-owned private corporations, a publicly-owned water utility, the Empresa Pública Social de Agua y Saneamiento (EPSAS) was established. A strong case can be made that the popular struggle to reclaim Bolivia’s privatised water resources laid the groundwork for the nation’s sharp political turn to the Left. The public ownership of water and socialism, it would seem, go hand-in-hand.

That being the case, one can easily imagine that a foreign investor, or group of investors, anxious to get their hands on New Zealand’s abundant water resources, would be particularly sensitive to the likely response of its indigenous citizens. As the sole possessors of Aotearoa for half-a-millennium, the Māori are linked to its lands, forests and fisheries by immensely strong bonds of lineage and tradition. Any attempt to place those resources in the hands of foreigners would provoke resistance every bit as strong as the indigenous Bolivians’.

Nor would the Māori stand alone. New Zealanders’ experience of the neoliberal privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s – and the partial privatisation of energy generators in the 2010s – has left a sizeable portion of the population implacably hostile to the privatisation process. The idea that something as basic to human existence as water might be handed over to private, profit-seeking interests has become a very hard sell.

- Sponsor Promotion -

But, the sort of people who see nothing objectionable in taking over another country’s water resources are unlikely to be put off by the objections of its citizens. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – all the investors have to do is find it.

Investors making a close study of New Zealand will quickly realise that Māori are the key interest group to neutralise. If the privatisation of water could be disguised as the indigenisation of water, then not only would the potentially unrelenting opposition of Māori be finessed away, but also the opposition of those Pakeha concerned to restore self-determination to Māori after nearly two centuries of colonisation. All the foreign investors need to identify is an appropriate vector through which their two-step process – indigenisation to privatisation – can be realised. (Interestingly, exactly the same two-step process was employed by the Fourth Labour Government to finesse the first wave of privatisations back in the 1980s: from corporatisation to privatisation.)

The most obvious vectoral candidate is the National Iwi Leaders Forum. This is an outgrowth of the Treaty Settlement Process – the New Zealand state’s inspired mechanism for de-radicalising Māori nationalism by setting-up a series of neo-tribal capitalist buffers between the traditional/professional Māori elites and the urbanised, poorly-educated and culturally unmoored Māori working-class. The leaders of these tribal corporations are already more than half-way into the deracinated world of global capitalism – a fact they keep well-hidden from their own people behind swirling veils of Māori mysticism.

Enlist the support of these commercial rangatira, and the journey towards the privatisation of water will be underway long before the nation realises. And if an iwi already seething with bitter historical resentments steps forward to lead the process of detaching New Zealand’s water resources from the state, then so much the better. What’s more, any politician willing to front this iwi power grab is bound to become a lightning-rod for all manner of racially-charged criticism and abuse. Cui bono from this cynical exercise in political misdirection? Who else but the true instigators of the project: the always silent, always patient, foreign investors.

That this exercise might be all-too-real is attested to by the involvement of those front-of-house facilitators of foreign direct investment – the international credit-rating agencies. Advising the Sixth Labour Government (represented primarily by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta) on what was now being called “Three Waters” was Standard & Poor’s (S&P Global Ratings). It’s advice was unequivocal: make sure the entities charged with the management of New Zealand’s drinking, storm and waste water are hermetically-sealed from democratic interference. Above all, keep their books and the State’s books entirely separate.

Had political journalists not been so distracted by the so-called “co-governance” arrangements built into the Three Waters proposal, the credit-rating agency’s stipulations would have pointed clearly to the project’s ultimate goal. What could be easier to privatise than a stand-alone, financially “independent” entity, slowly sinking beneath an insupportable burden of foreign debt?

Before that point could be reached, however, the whole process had to be turned into a hot mess of White Supremacists versus De-Colonisers. In this regard, the Three Waters legislation’s author, Nanaia Mahuta, could hardly have performed more obligingly. The deeper the project’s critics dug into the details of the legislation, the more evidence they found for the argument that Three Waters was all about the indigenisation of Aotearoa-New Zealand’s water. Not the least important feature of the legislation in this regard were the “Te Mana o Te Wai” statements – directives relating to both the public and private use of water that have the force of law, and that only Māori can issue!

Among the most vocal critics of Three Waters has been the radically neoliberal Act Party. Its active participation in the debate raises an intriguing (and potentially worrying) question. Is Act just another dupe of the foreign investors’ bait-and-switch operation, or is it surreptitiously giving them a helping hand? Act has always been a strong advocate of privatisation – an objective that would be made considerably easier by thoroughly discrediting the option of indigenisation and, along with it, the whole idea of public ownership.

In an ironic twist to this story, the first person to realise the long-term privatisation agenda built-in to the Three Waters project may well have been Nanaia Mahuta herself. Certainly, it would explain the Minister’s panic-stricken, last-minute attempts (in collusion with the Greens) to entrench anti-privatisation provisions in her legislation. If this is what happened, then it is difficult to avoid feeling sorry for the Minister. She could not adequately explain why her drastic (and arguably unconstitutional) amendments were necessary, because to have done so would have been to acknowledge her stalking-horse role in a project most New Zealanders would have condemned as unconscionable.

One crucial outcome of the entrenchment debacle, however, is that Mahuta’s fellow ministers were no longer content to rely upon her assurances that Three Waters was a sound and necessary project. Accordingly, they took a much closer look at the legislation. In doing so, they could hardly avoid the alarming question: “Is there anything in this legislation to prevent Iwi corporations from entering into agreements that could ultimately facilitate the privatisation of one or more of the four Three Waters entities?”

The answer to that question will be indicated by just how decisively Prime Minister Hipkins rejects Three Waters. Getting rid of the co-governance provisions will not be enough. If the legislation continues to empower the four entities to take on debt that is ultimately redeemable out of the pockets of New Zealand’s ratepayers, then the momentum towards their ultimate sale to foreign investors will not be slowed. If that is Hipkins’ decision, however, then either he, or his successors, will eventually be confronted with the same sort of popular uprising that convulsed Bolivia.

And in that battle, Māori and Pakeha will be fighting shoulder-to-shoulder. Proof that caring for and managing the waters of Aotearoa-New Zealand is the responsibility of all its peoples – and theirs alone.


  1. As soon as I heard they were trying to roll up all of the hospital boards, water boards and technical colleges into one big organisation, alarm bells went off in my head — this seemed to be a clear step towards privatisation for all of them.

    As Chris points out, it is far too convenient that the elected officials are now out of the picture (even abolishing elections in the process, in the case of the hospital boards!)

    The question is whether people will actually get angry enough to do anything about it. Right now there are no resisters to organise — the country as it is simply looks like a lost cause, for the time being anyway.

  2. That is a fine dissection of 3Waters Mr Trotter. Most Kiwis of all races / peoples have anything to gain from more privatisation. And from a race relations view they have everything to lose. A brave government would shelve this and He Puapua in favour of policies that give the poor of Aotearoa, of all races better life’s.

  3. Nothing the woke agenda for 3 waters / 5 Waters /changing Waters has given me any interest in centralising water control – the government has my thumbs down vote for being able to manage anything important – they are just as bad or worse than the councils. Better to have it decentralised and at least people can move away from poor decisions from councils – rather than be everyone being forced down some bizarre folly – like intensive building of housing in flood zones.

    The government can give money to councils for infrastructure they don’t have to take over the councils with non democratic bureaucrat 3 waters.

    Remember the furore over the Karakia at the council, under woke, nobody is allowed to get down to business without some grandstanding prayer meeting being the focus and cries of racism every 5 minutes, derailing democratically elected officials. Only going to get worse with co governance and a two tiered justice system, health system, water system, education system. Every time the woke take over, it is a disaster aka schools and cult like Mātauranga Maori.

    Gang leader argues seized land with links to money laundering has cultural significance

    Dome Valley Dump, have a look at what a handful of iwi has done to democracy.

    Central government taking over housing and planning intensification, and it’s never been so bad for housing. Government spent a fortune on woke / right wing /co governance / Te reo / and created a grandiose head count of managers and consultants wherever they go, that funny enough, has failed to provide affordable housing – especially for Maori. The opposite – if someone opens their door some gang member might stab them over a cigarette!

    Government leading with ideology and shutting down the community with housing has been a disaster for everyone and especially those they set out to help. 3 Waters is exactly the same, but worse, because water is even more necessary.

    When the government knocks on anybodies door with a grandiose idea for how their superior knowledge and ideology of woke is going to transform in the next century for billions of dollars, don’t answer. Especially if you are poor!

    Likely to lose that cheaper, nicer, private rental and grow up in a one room hotel with drug dealers and socially unacceptable people next door, harassing you. Again, remember don’t open your door as the scum seem to be expanding with all the enablement.

    Not sure where all the homeless are going to live now, woke ministers have already filled up the emergency hotels with former state house land privatised and hastily pushed through intensifications built by private interests that don’t really seem to be working out very well. $700,000 Kainga ora houses while importing poverty families on minimum wages – how quick is that going to bankrupt NZ?

    Without every bothering to clean up their last disaster (housing) the woke, move on to the next money trap, kinda like the right wingers.

  4. 3Waters was always intended to give Maori rights over our water to think otherwise is naive.
    Hipkins will see votes if he scraps it,so he most likely will.

  5. What a load of bollocks and patronizing to suggest Maori are dumb enough to sell our countries water (that nobody owns but council sell permits to foreigners to fill bottles) to a private company. Just more scaremongering.

    • Nothing in our History would indicate anything other than this is exactly what is happening right now. There are none so blind as those who will not see. The iwi-ocracy and their rampant entitlement stinks of avarice.The Sealord deal being a clear illustration of the gimme gimmee gimmee attitude of the Maori elite.

      • You are right on the button here Shona .The government of the day gave quota to Maori which was correct to do but then they hired Russian crew rather than trainee young out of work Maori. This may have been necessary in the early days but it should have sapped by now .
        Saying Maori need to be 50 percent involved in 3 Waters because they have so much knowledge is a bit ingenious. They should be at the table but only if they have proven expertise in water management

      • And the Sealord deal having the Maori corporates bringing in foreign fishing boats manned by foreign crews to fish their quota – and not even making jobs for their own people. Wan’t it Sealord that closed a Dunedin fish processing plant and sent it offshore?

      • ” There are none so blind as those who will not see. ”


        How many of the Maori people prospered after Key brought TMP into the tent and promised riches for the elitist tribes and their corporations in exchange for their support ( when needed ) for the National -ACT- Devious Dunne government.

        Zero !

        Sealord is a creature of the neo liberal economy and donated to the Brash led National party in 2004-5 and Key would also have had his hand out.

        White or Brown when it comes to personal enrichment and power how quickly you adapt and forget who put you there.

    • Well, they were dumb enough to sign over sovereignty to the Crown. You think a corporation like Ngai Tahu won’t sell water if the cheque is big enough? Lol.

    • Well, you are stupid enough to let the “representatives” of your respective Iwi to soak up all that lovely money from the grievance gravy train.
      The general population is about as thick as two short planks and Maori generally even more so, as evidenced by the aversion to education.

  6. I don’t like your sneaky little dig at the ACT Party Chris. I don’t think you have any justification for your question that they would privatise water, because they have favoured private ownership in other areas. ACT look like the only honest poiiticians at present, so I hope Seymour will lay that possibility to rest.

    • The ACTors would definately sell their grandmother but that would long after they gave away the water to overseas hedge funds.

    • Holy sh*t Nicholas, you have zero idea what act actually stand for. Of course they would privatise it.
      The party was started by reichard prebble and roger douglas ffs. The architects of the great sell off of the 80’s and traitors to this country.

  7. “The Privatisation Two-Step: Is Three Waters A Masterpiece Of Misdirection?”
    Since roger douglas’s version of milton friedman’s neoliberalism hasn’t gone away and in fact is closer now than you might think and nothing appears to be planned to do something creative about that, then nothing and no one political or with vast amounts of money, your money in fact, can be trusted. At all.
    Please. You must re-watch this superb documentary by the fantastic Alister Barry. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you must watch it now. Today. It’s extremely important, essential in fact, that you get to know your enemy. Their cold lies, and the deliberacy of their telling, is deeply chilling and terrible.
    ‘ Someone Else’s Country’
    A public and independent-of-New Zealand cronyism and corruption Royal Commission of Inquiry please.
    Dear @ Martyn Bradbury. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to voice/write out that which must be said and written. If resistance doesn’t take root against the privateer rogernomes, we’re all fucked.

  8. The problem that Hipkins has is that he stood by Jacinda Ardern every step of the way. So he can scrap as much as he likes, chances are no one believes him. And that is a deficit that he has no time making up for.
    What would be an interesting poll would be Trust per party. Do you trust Labour, do you trust Hipkins. Firm no from me.

  9. rightards…just 1 example of a privatised public service in NZ being cheaper and more efficient than the public one…just 1 example of the bankrupt idea of privatisation actually working outside chicago school economists fever dreams…

  10. To get a better understanding of how co governance ‘works’ for the elite brown club of groomed maori.
    You just have to take a look at the Commander in charge of Aucklands TMA (Tupuna Maunga Authority), Paul Majurey. Self appointed, elected to the chair of the TMA, also the Tamaki Collective, orchestrator of the Hauraki Gulf Forum, Pare Hauraki & Marutuahu treaty settlements as well as the chairman of eke Panuku and a myriad of companies. See here:

    He has many conflicts of interest and has influence across the political landscape, the legal landscape and the self promoted iwi landscape in Thames, Hauraki and Tamaki. Oh and Auckland council too.

    Heres a great article demonstrating his kinda arrogance.

    He’s exactly the type of monster you would want on your side to shovel you heaps of 15 year service contracts that will be perpetual in longevity and secure you direct access to ratepayers & taxpayers cash and at the same time enabler others to clip-the-ticket.

    So less of the hoo haha about the mowrees are coming! And more about which mowrees are already ready and waiting at the table already.

    • Right on mate.

      I’ve been thinking over how the Treaty settlements process was screwed up over the past few decades of late. Leaving aside direct questions of class, one thing that feels like a no-brainer, that could have been implemented oh so easily, as part of the settlements process would have been bonus cash incentives to encourage the iwi organizations to reach out to and embrace those who have become detached from their direct heritage. Try to make the big corporate iwi orgs behave like Tuhoe does out of the goodness of their hearts.

    • Thanks Denny. Majury and his cronies who employ their own companies to do unnecessary work, with a budget of $30m/yr + extracted out of the purses of working Auckland families,

      Very cosy.

      Need more light shon on all that.

      Search companies records for Paul Majury… Director of Hundreds of companies.?

    • Paul Majurey has done the best for the Marutuahu and Hauraki tribes (12) and also the tribes of Tamaki Makaurau . Those tribes dont have the resources that other tribes have – we have to share them with tribes from other areas (12 tribes) – Te Pai o Hauraki, the generosity of Hauraki. Its the jealous greedy factions who have no knowledge of the processes and typical tribal politics.

  11. I actually agree with you C.T. This ‘NILF’ shouldn’t be doing the negotiations with the crown. They have no mandate to legislate constitutional issues because they weren’t voted in thru the voting booth , that’s the task of the Maori Party!

  12. One thing I have found _extremely_ confusing about all this coverage is the constant references to the ‘National Iwi Leaders Forum’.

    The actual organization seems to be called the ‘National Iwi CHAIRS Forum’, even though its subgroups, like the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, generally have ‘Iwi Leaders’ in their names (as does its Facebook URL). And it doesn’t seem to be registered as a corporation or a charity. What is it actually supposed to be called? Is the National Iwi Chairs Forum pushing this or only the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group? Why does media not care about questions this obvious?

    It has various working groups that seem to mainly be chaired by corporate Maori types but also Mike Smith. How genuinely representative is this organization? Does it have any hard men from the likes of Tuhoe who would fight hard on behalf of Maori, and the rest of us, against privatization? How is it funded? Why is it seemingly not incorporated?

  13. It has been completely obvious from the start that 3 waters is a sham. The idea of rolling 130 councils into undemocratic “entities” ie corporations is the corporatisation prelude to privatisation. Fool me once, no doubt they will attempt to fool me again.

    Seems to me that locally owned water supplies have worked pretty well for 150 years. And Ministry of Works bridge and dam building worked pretty well for 100 years. The country tried a new idea(ology) it now needs to accept it didnt work.

    If (and its a big if) the country needs upgraded water supply and drainage systems then it can easily be funded by low cost govt bonds and developer levies.

    If there are issues around city storm water pollution, dairy run off and industrial pollution then regulate the quality standard over time and ensure enforcement.

  14. It’s been fairly obvious for a while that 3/5 waters has nothing to do with race and everything to do with elitism. The old trick of dividing people who have far more in common with each other than not is a timeless political tactic.

  15. Thanks Chris.
    But I think you give too much credit to some.
    But, reject or dismiss the opinions of others at your peril.
    “Follow the money” and one can well come to this conclusion.

    It is interesting to note that the 3Waters issue has been doing the rounds since at least early 2000. The reform of 3Waters was the thing that dominated NZWWA, progressively NZWWA was captured by the intelligentsia and consultants, to the extend that many councils withdrew support from the organisation, but the “progressives” kept going and transformed it into Water NZ…. Need to say more.

  16. Thanks for your reckons chris, but as you will well know, Auckland’s water was well on the way to privatising its water before the last National govt lost, under Hides direction.
    Water resources are not protected under council ownership.
    As for your concerns about ‘elite maori capitalists’, I sincerely doubt that co governance is anything but an impediment to privatisation.
    It was mooted that a high threshold for parliamentary vote be required for the selling of water assets- but this was mysteriously dubbed a constitutional night mare, despite being, a bloody good idea and long overdue.
    This should be required across the board for publicly owned assets.
    IK can’t help feeling Chris, that you have become a voice for a sort of controlled opposition. Over the years I have observed you undermining left leaning parties, and playing up the fears and catch cries of the right.

    This idea that Maori will sell water is ludicrous.

    I’m with minto on this one mate. We should proceed with 3 waters, but yes, we need to build in protection against privatisation.

    You seem to have failed to understand that councils in general have failed to manage the problem and do not have the leverage necessary to fix it. You failed to mention the model was suggested by scottish water experts, not S&P.
    You have not acknowledged that local councils are far democratic and prone to nepotism and deals for their mates.
    Local councils are happy to treat rivers as ‘drains’ and refer to them as such.

    Your generation has failed to invest in future generations, and allowed infrastructure to crumble. Unfortunately, drastic action is now necessary.

  17. No one understands three waters – only hear from racist Natz and Act. All we read are racist comments from ignorant uneducated right wing tories. Labour should just pass it and everyone will forget about it especially after the recent weather events.

    • Why don’t you go and advise Labour Nikorima? You don’t seem too good at discussing ways, means, outcomes and net profit and disadvantages and moral uncertainties. NZ Labour have gone there already and will open their arms to you perhaps though would like you better with some experience in Brit’s Labour machine.

Comments are closed.