OPEN LETTER TO JUDITH TIZARD,

MINISTER ASSISTING THE PRIME MINISTER WITH AUCKLAND ISSUES.

(courtesy Water Pressure Group Auckland)      Back

Dear Judith,

The Water Pressure Group (Auckland) finds your reply to the postcard to Helen Clark regarding "Legislation and the provision of water services in the Auckland region" to be inept, insulting and patronising. The postcard was not addressed to you, the issues have not been addressed by you, and the issues raised do not just concern citizens living in the Auckland area.

You, of all people, should have a good understanding of the underlying principles for the non-commercialised model for water, given the thousands of "People's Option" postcards that were sent to you, to be passed on as submissions to the Auckland Region Water Review (ARWR).

Did you actually bother to read any of them?

If you had, you would have surely realised that the "People's Option" as the only non-commercialised option, was in direct contradiction, and fundamentally opposed to "The Review, through its public submission and consultation process, is addressing how we can achieve more coordinated planning to make efficiencies, reduce costs and regulate the industry."

We believe that the Auckland Region Water Review is trying to help set up Auckland's water services and New Zealand's water services for future privatisation.

We have seen assistance for multinational corporations before, under the 1984 Labour Government. Commercialise, corporatise, privatise. Billions of dollars worth of previously New Zealand state-owned assets became corporate private property. What Labour started, National helped to finish.

The real reason for the Auckland Region Water Review was to try and achieve a united front of Councils in the Auckland region to push for legislative change that would spread user-charges for wastewater and the commercialised model for water services, setting in place steps for future privatisation.

You are using the same weasel words as the Auckland Region Water Review, when you state that: "All three options suggested by the review require that the industry assets remain in public ownership."

Under the Papakura franchise with United Water (the largest private water company in Australia and New Zealand - a consortium of Vivendi and RWE), the assets remain in public ownership, but the operation and management are in the hands of multinational water companies making private profit from public infrastructure. According to the Auckland Region Water Review - "franchising remains an option." Franchising IS privatisation!

We draw your attention to a recent quote from Roger Kerr, from the New Zealand Business Roundtable in The Independent 09/04/2001: "Reforms to roading management, combined with similar moves to convert water and sewerage services into commercial utilities (or franchise them), would lead to a major and badly needed reshaping of local government

The corporate membership of the New Zealand Business Roundtable were amongst the main beneficiaries of the first round of 'Rogernomics' introduced by the 1984 Labour government. Having helped to gut central government of public property, it appears that now they can't wait to get their filthy hands on public property owned by local government.

Globally, multinational corporations are spreading their tentacles to cover water services, and other essential services such as health and education. The entrenchment of water services under the Commerce Act will help pave the way for this to happen. If the supply of water is cemented under the Commerce Act as a commercial activity, then water services are being set up for future privatisation under the General Agreement on Trades and Services (G.A.T.S.)

It is only public services which are NOT provided on a commercial or competitive basis which are not subject to the G.A.T.S. Just whose interests are you and your government serving? The majority of the people or the corporates?

How dare you have the effrontery to urge us "to get constructively involved in this complex and challenging area by contacting your local city or district councillors; to tell them of your concerns and by following the work of the Auckland Region Water, Wastewater and Stormwater review as it works to reach agreement on the best way forward."

The Auckland City Council has been contacted over the past four years, by constructively involved, public-spirited citizens who, unlike yourself, don't receive a red cent for hundreds of hours of voluntary community effort.

a) 1997 Auckland City Annual Plan: Over 2800 submissions received from citizens which opposed the formation of the LATE Metrowater Ltd.

b) 1998 Auckland City Annual Plan: Over 21,000 proforma submissions received from citizens.

"ATTENTION AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL:

As a rate-paying member of the public, a voter residing in Auckland City, I strongly object to the establishment of Metrowater, and likely repercussions to pricing structure and water quality; also Metrowater's future under the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

I demand that Metrowater be put back on the agenda and re-voted on, due to the new evidence of the abolishment of the tax-free charitable trust status."

c) 1999 Auckland City Annual Plan: Over 15,000 proforma submissions received from citizens.

"ATTENTION AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL:

As a citizen residing in Auckland City, I am opposed to the commercialisation and privatisation of public assets. I demand that Metrowater be abolished and that water services be reintegrated back into the Auckland City Council as a non-profit Stand Alone Business Unit (SABU)

I demand that wastewater user-charges and systems charges be abolished - wastewater charges be paid from the rating base - and that the amount going into wastewater be indicated on rates bills to ensure accountable management of our resources."

d) 2000 Auckland City Annual Plan: Over 8000 proforma submissions received from citizens.

"ATTENTION AUCKLAND CITY COUNCIL:

I strongly oppose commercialisation and privatisation of public assets. I totally disagree that water is a saleable commodity and that the supply of water is a commercial activity. Water is a vital necessity of life, and water and wastewater are essential public services which should be affordable to all citizens. No household should be restricted or disconnected.

I demand that the Local Authority Trading Enterprise (LATE) Metrowater Ltd be abolished on June 30 2000 and that water and wastewater services be returned to democratic control as a Stand Alone Business Unit (SABU) under Auckland City Council;

That water and wastewater be funded from the property-valued general rating base, NOT by user or systems charges or Uniform Annual General Charges (UAGC);

That consultation be genuine, that the citizens of Auckland are listened to during this year 2000 Annual Plan public submission process, and that Metrowater's abolition is carried out NOW.
I insist that neither the ongoing regional/national Water Review, nor any other excuse, is used to delay Metrowater's abolition or to privatise/commercialise any water services."

e) November 2000, Avondale / Mt Roskill by-election:

The Water Pressure Group candidate stands for the above policy, using the by-election to promote the Metrowater wastewater bill boycott and gets over 6000 votes, only 700 votes behind the successful candidate.

 

There is massive public opposition to the only commercialised retail water LATE in the country, Metrowater Ltd, the model that the Auckland Region Water Review would like to spread all over the region. We have been ignored.

In the 1998 Local Body Elections seven councillors who got elected promising to abolish Metrowater have broken their word. We have no trust whatsoever in the Auckland Region Water Review. All their meetings last year were held behind closed doors with the public and tangata whenua excluded. We had no say whatsoever in the formulation of the three options that were put before the public. When the groups making up the People's Option Water Coalition approached Grant Taylor, Chairman of the Auckland Region Water Review Steering Group, and told him that we wanted a fourth, non-commercialised option put forward equally for the public to consider as part of the public consultation process, this was refused. Despite tiny financial resources, submissions supporting the non-commercialised "People's Option" swamped all others, as you should know better than anyone.

Our mistrust in the Auckland Region Water Review has been confirmed in their continued attempts to minimise our input by separating our "People's Option" postcard submissions from their newspaper 'coupon' submissions. We have received advice from the Office of the Ombudsman on this totally unacceptable situation, and will be taking it further.

Perhaps you did not do your job, as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues, and make it clear to the Auckland Region Water Review that the "People's Option" postcards were submissions, and to be treated as such.

We do not trust either our local government or your government to look after the interests of the majority of citizens. That is why we have sent a message that cannot be ignored - an Auckland region wide water bill boycott.

In Auckland, it rains one day in three. That is why apparently, Auckland City needs a covered arena for sporting fixtures. Why then, do we need the Waikato pipeline which is costing $155 million and a major component of Watercare's charges? (Water services run on a non-commercialised basis, would be able to encourage genuine water conservation, because they wouldn't be focussed on the need to sell more water to make more profit.)

Why should water be unaffordable for any Auckland family? You state: "As with any service, suppliers must take steps to recover outstanding debts. If they don't, it is not fair on the people who do pay. Auckland water suppliers do try to help people who genuinely have difficulty in paying. For example, in Auckland City, Metrowater has established a trust to which people can apply for assistance."

The concept of families having to become charity cases to pay for our most essential of public services - water - is as obscene as it is ridiculous. Families should not be in debt for water services bills - end of story.

It is also a treacherous 180 degree sell out on the stated position of the Labour Party prior to the 1999 general election in answer to our "Survey of political parties on the provision of water/wastewater services."

Question 1: "Does your party consider the provision of water services to be an essential public service which should be affordable by all, or as a commodity to be sold at a profit for those who own the service?"

The Labour Party response was: "Our party does consider the provision of water services to be an essential public service which should be affordable by all."

You cannot simultaneously hold the position that water services should be affordable, but will for some, be unaffordable.

The reason why water services in Auckland City have become unaffordable for many households is because of the method of charging - 'user-pays'. The Water Pressure Group has never called for water services to be free. However, we believe that the fairest method of paying the costs of our collective water services is under property-based general rates, which shares costs more equitably across the community on the basis of ability to pay.

When Metrowater was established in 1997, rates were reduced across the board by 20%.Those with the highest value properties, who had higher levels of water consumption, were effectively rewarded with large rates reductions, while those with low and medium value properties, who tended to have lower rates of water consumption were penalised with higher water services bills which for many families are now more than their rates. Not one of the three options put forward by the Auckland Region Water Review proposed payment for water services by property based general rates, despite the fact that tens of thousands of Auckland citizens had supported that proposition in public submissions to the Annual Plans as previously outlined.

The position of the Labour Party prior to the 1999 election stated (in reply to our Question 8: "Does your party agree with the principle that those who own higher-value properties should contribute proportionally more towards infrastructure costs through general property taxes (rates), or that revenues should be raised instead through uniform annual charges, levies or user-charges?"):

"We support the principles of applying a re-distribution of wealth to fund the costs of continuing essential services and so support rates-based funding for these services."

The most constructive step that we can take, is encourage people to rely on themselves by taking direct action which cannot be ignored - not to rely upon unreliable politicians. Your inept reply confirms that you fall into that category.

You encourage people to 'have their say' on the ARWR. They have, and you too have ignored them. Your claim that the Auckland Region Water Review "is addressing some of the issues you raise" is blatantly incorrect.

The demands put on the Labour/Alliance government in the postcard to Helen Clark were as follows:

"Dear Prime Minister,

Before the 1999 General Election, both the Labour and Alliance parties stated that they considered "the provision of water services to be an essential public service which should be affordable by all." In the High Court it has since been ruled that water services come under the Commerce Act; that water is a saleable commodity and its supply a commercial activity. The Labour/Alliance Coalition Government must change the law! Profit-making models (LATE's) are not acceptable for essential services like water!

TAKE WATER SERVICES OUT OF THE COMMERCE ACT - NOW!

Before the 1999 General Election, both parties stated support for rates based funding for essential services, because user charges put the burden on those least able to pay.

AS THE GOVERNMENT YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CARRY OUT YOUR PROMISES! Legislative change to the Local Government Act or Rating Powers Act that spread user, flat or poll tax charges for such essential services would be breaking your stated pre-election policies.

Before the 1999 General Election both Labour and the Alliance stated opposition to the privatisation of water services.

Privatisation (franchising) has already started! You must stop it!"

As the ARWR supports the commercialised model for water services, franchising (privatisation) and the spreading of user-charges, they are diametrically opposed to our demands. So how can they be 'addressing' them in any way except to oppose them?

You, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, have not 'addressed' any of these issues either. You, Judith Tizard, as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister with Auckland Issues, have ignored the people, and are acting as a mouthpiece for the ARWR, helping set up water services for future corporate control.

We have no confidence in you as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister with Auckland Issues, and will be recommending that you are replaced, forthwith.

We want a reply from the Prime Minister, to whom the postcards were addressed. The Prime Minister has made a big issue about this being a government that keeps its word. Not according to your reply, on the issue of water services. We will be very interested to see how the word of the Prime Minister stacks up against the word of the Labour party before the 1999 general election. Beware - we are merciless on sell outs.

We warn you, Judith Tizard and the Labour/Alliance Coalition government - do not underestimate the importance of water issues to the people of the Auckland region.

Yours truly, Penny Bright, Media Spokesperson (Auckland) Water Pressure Group.       Back