Monday, March 11, 2013

A closer look: Freshwater "reform"

The government released its proposed reforms to the management of freshwater over the weekend. The full report is here [PDF], but the quick version is that the government is proposing greater iwi involvement in water decisions, an "optional" collaborative planning process, a "National Objectives Framework" setting guidelines for quality, and more guidance for councils on dealing with overallocation. Much of this should be uncontroversial: iwi need a greater say (its their water after all), and some consistency on water quality standards would be useful. Some of the rest however is highly troubling.

Take, for example, their proposed "optional" collaborative planning process. This is modelled on the process used by the Land and Water Forum, and justified on the basis that:

Communities need to come together to decide how to use and manage their freshwater resources.

Well, the people of Canterbury did exactly that. And in retaliation the government stripped them of their democracy and placed those decisions in the hands of a group of unelected dictators, who are now (contrary to Cantabrians' expressed will) handing over all their water to farmers. So its hard to take this proposal seriously when the government is so obviously two-faced about it.

But even if we ignore government dishonesty, the proposal stinks. Yes, its all about consensus etc - but when you get down to the nitty gritty, it allows councils to say "we will use this process", appoint stakeholder groups to it (which may have no community support or mandate), and then use the fact that they have to strip all other parties of procedural and appeal rights over the decision. And that simply stinks. it is one thing for such collaborative processes to bind participants - they've agreed to take part, after all. Its quite another for them to purport to bind third parties, who were not consulted and had no input. Its simply a recipe for local government to steamroller their communities and dictate decisions with no right of appeal - classic National Party, in other words.

On overallocation, they're big on talking it up as a problem, but stop short of imposing the concrete solution of actually charging commercial users for their use of our water. Which means the problem is just going to continue. Given that large parts of the country (including most of Otago and Canterbury, and parts of Hawkes Bay) are already overallocated, I expected a bit more urgency on this. They are taking baby-steps, by regulating for better accounting information (which is required for any permit or resource rental scheme), but its very definitely kicking that can down the road. Which sadly isn't surprising.

So, no real solutions, and another attack on democracy and public input. More of the same from National.