Monday, March 20, 2017

"Too hard"

That's what Prime Minister Bill English thinks of the issue of charging profiteers for water:

There will be no price put on the country's water before the election because it's "too hard" to work out who owns it, says Prime Minister Bill English.

While Environment Minister Nick Smith has called any move to charge bottled water companies or put a ban on them exporting water "farcical" - English's response has been a bit more watered down.

"In New Zealand for a long long time it's been the case that no one owns the water. You'd be disrupting 100 years of practice and we've had a system in New Zealand where it's first come first served," he told Newshub.

"You'd have to work out pretty basic things like who owns it? What would you charge them? Who else would you charge?

"Because other people make money out of water, including the tourist boats that float on it...If there was a simple, easy answer here it would already be in place."

"Right now, it is too hard," said English.

Sure, it's hard. But too hard? Not really. Unlike Bill English, I don't think its beyond the wit of the government's policy analysts to craft a solution here, or of their Treaty negotiators to settle the immediate Treaty issues that it raises (because lets be honest: like the rest of New Zealand, its stolen property, and Maori deserve to be compensated for it). In fact the last bit seems particularly easy; based on past precedent around fisheries and aquaculture, the government would just end up paying 20% of such charges to local iwi.

The real barrier to National (and therefore English) acting on this is because that "no-one owns water, first come, first served" policy disproportionately benefits one group and allows them to profiteer from a public resource while destroying its value to others. That group is farmers - and they donate to the National Party. Again, I don't believe its beyond the wit of MfE's policy analysts to devise a charging scheme which differentiated between low-value uses like farming and high-value ones like water-bottling while ensuring free use for public purposes like town supply, but it would mean farmers having to finally pay for that public resource they are stealing from us. And that will never happen as long as National is in government.