Wednesday, 27 October 2021

People are losing their minds #ThreeWaters


People are losing their minds -- and it's not just about the virus.

According to half the internet, several advocacy groups who should know better, and much of parliament (who never will), this morning we witnessed the central government nationalising local government's water assets.

"The great water theft is on," screams Davis Farrar's hyperbolic headline. National's Chris Luxon, spokesman on the local branch of government, hurls out a claim that transferring water assets from local to central is "tantamount to state-sanctioned theft of assets.” "Make no mistake," says the Taxpayers Union, "this is an asset grab."

An asset grab!

State-sanctioned theft!


There was a time when words meant something.

Since the National party is already a lost cause, I'll focus on the words of that last organisation, one representing (so they say) the interests of all those making forced contributions to all branches of government -- so that you might think they may realise the difference between what happened to (say) the British motor industry in the seventies, and what's happening now.

Because what happened then was nationalisation, i.e., state theft of privately-owned assets. And what's happening now is simply this: moving the management and water assets out of the hands of the country's 67 councils, to four large water entities that will be effectively controlled by central government and iwi. 

So it's not a state-sanctioned theft. And what difference does it really make if it's central government rather than local government who's making an expensive balls-up of things?

Oh, but it will lead to "higher water costs" and "inefficiencies" says the Taxpayers Union at its new protest website. Yet you could hardly say that water costs under current council management are in any meaningful way "constrained," and anyone under Watercare's care over the most recent period of undersupply could hardly vouch for them being efficient.

But it will lead to "unnecessary bureaucracy," says the Taxpayers Union. All bureaucracy is unnecessary; its' not clear to me that 67 council water entities is any less (or more) unnecessary than four? Hard to see this as a reason to be so opposed?

But councils will "lose their rights of control," says the Taxpayers Union, who argue that "decisions around selling assets, receiving dividends, and setting charges will [now] be made by unelected entities." So what? It's not clear that those who have actual rights, i.e., you and I (councils qua councils don't have rights), are any better served whether decisions about these things are put beyond us at local govt level, or beyond us at central govt level. In either case, we're not part of the bureaucratic management involved. So how is this new plan worth opposing so savagely?

It's not really clear from their protest website why they're so incensed enough to start a protest campaign -- one involving a dedicated website, a petition, TV commercials, for all of which they're asking for crowd-funded. It's very far from the Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace. And like I say above, it's not even anything like the nationalisations that crippled post-war Britain.

Indeed, it's not nationalisation at all -- and in the way the minister is spinning off these 67 creaking and partially shambolic entities into just four, and partially transferring of control to various iwi, it could in the future lead to something more like the sort of privatisation that happened to water in Britain in the late eighties. And since I'm very much in favour of that sort of thing -- and have advocated before for iwi to have greater property rights recognised as a pathway to that sort of thing -- I find it hard, myself,  to understand why so many seem so opposed.

Perhaps they're losing their minds?


  1. "What difference does it really make if it's central government rather than local government making an expensive balls-up of things?"

    None whatsoever, Peter. In fact IIRC our Libertarianz policies of years gone by, we proposed the outright abolition of local Government.

    "and its partial transfer of control to various iwi"

    I can't speak for other commentators, but *that* is the bit that bothers me. Unlike most other State asset grabs, this one quite explicitly hands over 50% ownership to an unelected, racially selected, body.

    Without that provision, sure, it'd be yet another shuffle of the deckchairs on the Titanic of nationalization. Yawn, nothing to see here, move along.

    But as it stands, it furthers the establishment of a contemporary Apartheid in New Zealand.

  2. But I've advocated doing that before, as an easy pathway to privatisation in a milieu that otherwise opposites it.
    Why not sit back and enjoy the delicious site of the Red Team inadvertently preparing assets for privatisation, and the Blue Team opposing it.

  3. Peter do you believe 'Maori' own all water in New Zealand? And if so can you explain what ownership means with this regard specifically?

    1. If you search on that topic here, you'll find several posts that answer your question.

  4. It is one thing to advocate for uninhabited unproductive land to be put into iwi ownership as a pathway to private ownership, it is quite another to advocate for productive assets to be taken from those who paid for them and effectively control them , and placed in the hands, even "partially", of those who didn't.

    Your linked article states "THERE”S JUST FOUR THINGS that should be done to ensure that both freedom and prosperity are secured." This proposal meets none of them.

    1. Terry, you're confusing advocacy for not-opposing. I'm closer to indifferent (to the proposals) but bemused (by all the irrational opposition).

    2. PS: And I'm not arguing this will lead to privatisation soon, even -- more's the pity. Just enjoying seeing the Red Team make it possible.

    3. Terry, you're confusing advocacy for not-opposing. I'm closer to indifferent (to the proposals) but bemused (by all the irrational opposition).

    4. Fair point. But then am I to understand you are not opposed to productive assets being taken from the control of those who paid for them and placed into the control of those who didn't? How is that not not being opposed to socialist acts between unconsenting adults? Surely, opposing the opposite of what you are advocating makes the moral coin whole?

      Your idea that this is a step towards privatisation seems to me to be wishful thinking, at best. Mahuta repeatedly said yesterday that the ownership structure, which has no shareholding, has been purposefully designed to prevent even the possibility of privatisation. What am I missing here?

      Mark makes a good argument for opposing the 'proposal'. I was only commenting on your non-opposition to whom control was being transferred to.

      As for the hullabaloo, I think many people sense that this is a thin edge of a much larger confiscation wedge, which could quite easily expand to confiscating private assets.

    5. P.S. by "at best" I mean that I cannot rule out that you are having some fun by being a provocator, given that you are indifferent.

  5. Hello, My name is Peter Cresswell and I'm from the government and I'm here to help ...

  6. You’ve got this wrong. You’re correct in an abstract sense that ownership by local government and ownership by central government are similar. Neither are private ownership. However ownership by local government is closer to private ownership in terms of its better connection to, and accountability to those who pay for the assets (the ratepayers). For me that’s not abstract theory, but direct experience and knowledge that when dealing with small Councils, I have more control over my property and projects than I do with a larger Council ,or a central government bureaucracy. To the extent government is necessary (or unavoidable in our current political context), the smaller, and less isolated from the people the better. You should be opposing this for the same resin you opposed the Auckland Council super city.

    1. Agreed, that's the best reason to oppose it. Not because it's "asset theft" (it's not), nor any of the sundry other irrational reasons I've heard.

    2. Glad we agree. I suppose you're right in a sense about it not being literally "asset theft", but I don't think it's too much of a heresy to use that terminology - the main point being that local ratepayers have paid for the assets over the years, and they're now going to lose whatever control they currently have over them.

  7. Okay. This is strange. Apologies for off-topic but my comment appeared here but I can't even get the similar "test" to appear at the "But Hitler" post of yours, let alone the longer comment I wanted to make there.


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