Water New Zealand Conference and Expo 2022

Local Government

Water New Zealand Conference and Expo 2022

Te Pae Convention Centre, Ōtautahi, Christchurch 

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Introduction and acknowledgements

Thank you, Helen for your leadership and warm welcome to this conference. I also want to acknowledge Gillian Blythe and the Water New Zealand team.

It is great to be able to meet with you all so soon since part two of the 2021 Conference in May.

Can I acknowledge the event organisers for the work done to bring the water sector together and pull together a jam-packed programme.

As a regular attendee of this conference, it has been great to see it grow each year, and this year is no exception.

As a membership based organisation it’s also great to know that you continue grow against the backdrop of reform.

There has been an incredible amount of mahi since we last met in working towards the transformation of our current service delivery system for water across New Zealand.

Over the next few days, we will have the opportunity to engage with one another to discuss the challenges we are faced with across the sector and what solutions we can all bring to the table.

I also encourage you to visit ‘He Pukenga Wai’, a comfortable space to encourage kōrero about Te Mana o te Wai what it means for the important work that you do and how we can ensure that it becomes an international point of difference in our approach to water reform.

Now is the time to be aspirational about what our three waters system across Aotearoa will look like as we move into the future.

Transformation of the waters service delivery system

We have challenges we are already facing, and which are ahead of us, in the form of aging infrastructure, population growth, climate change and natural disasters.

As you know, we have been talking about these issues for years.

The time to act is now.

Change is urgently needed in the way our water services are currently managed to prepare for and meet these challenges.

With this challenge, we are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the way we deliver these services.

The Water reform programme is focused on delivering a seamless transition, which lays the foundations for long-term transformation. This will better position our three waters system nationwide to continue to meet new challenges.

This transformation is already underway with the Water Services Entities Bill currently before the Finance and Expenditure Committee.

This legislation has allowed us to set up the framework necessary to create a new service delivery system bringing with it the scale and structural change to enable the significant investment required in water infrastructure which is currently out of reach of individual councils and a huge cost burden on current and future ratepayers.

With this additional capacity and capability, we will also be able to build and sustain a highly skilled and adaptable water workforce whose ability to innovate and collaborate will drive positive outcomes for New Zealand.

We want a system which benefits all New Zealanders through being focussed on delivering for the communities they serve and leveraging new technologies, while also building awareness around the role every New Zealander has in the water system to value our taonga – our precious water resource.

People have the best opportunity to thrive and prosper when the communities they live in are safe and resilient. Access to safe, healthy drinking water is a fundamental human right.

Resilient infrastructure is important to communities and their long-term wellbeing. Addressing the planning for and funding of infrastructure ensures communities have the facilities that allow their regions to thrive and prosper.

We will deliver healthy and safe water to ALL households through a uniquely New Zealand approach through building on a world class water system guided by the principles of Te Mana o te Wai and upholding the Treaty of Waitangi in practical ways that strengthen our commitment to work together to protect our tāonga – water.

Legislative Programme ahead

When I last spoke at this Conference, I updated you on the Government accepting most of the recommendations of the Working Group on Representation, Governance and Accountability of new Water Services Entities and that they would inform the first Bill in a suite of legislation establishing the entities.

Since then the Water Services Entities Bill has been introduced, referred to the Finance and Expenditure Committee and thousands of public submissions have been received, which will no doubt help us refine this important piece of legislation.

The Committee is due to report back on the Bill in November.

As you know, once passed, this Bill will shift water services from 67 councils to four new water service entities owned by each region’s councils on behalf of their local communities.

While councils will continue to own the assets, the entities will operate independently enabling strategic long-term investment in water services that is not dependent on other demands on council funding.

This means a more consistent standard of three waters services delivered across New Zealand and higher standards of service over time for all New Zealanders, which is a key contributor to health and wellbeing outcomes.

Healthy water, means healthy people and healthy communities. 

Later this year, we will introduce further legislation which will set out the detailed functions and powers of the entities, provide the means to transfer assets and liabilities from local authorities to the entities, and ensure their effective integration into planning systems including resource management.

Further legislation will also establish an economic regulation and consumer protection system.

My goal is for this legislation to reflect international best practice and also be uniquely tailored to Aotearoa New Zealand’s local environment and context – hence the emphasis on Te Mana o Te Wai.

This is why it is crucial to continue to refine aspects of the proposed new system as well as mechanisms for transition through continued partnership with the local government sector, iwi/mana whenua and industry.

With the introduction of further legislation to Cabinet, also comes opportunity for public submissions via the select committee process.

Although this process has now closed for the first piece of legislation, there will be the opportunity to participate in this way with the upcoming legislation and I strongly encourage you to continue to engage in this way.

Transition to the new delivery system

We are also laying the groundwork for a seamless transition on 1 July 2024 and a long-term transformation that better positions our three waters system nationwide to continue to meet new challenges.

Officials from the NTU have been travelling across the country to engage with councils on what can be expected during and after the transition to the new service delivery system.

The involvement of all 67 councils is critical to ensuring the seamless transition to the new entities as well as ensuring the interests of their people and communities are best served in the transition process and beyond.

The appointment of entity chief executives is also underway.

They will contribute to the transition process and sit within the DIA National Transition Unit until the new entities are established.

This approach will provide greater certainty and stability through transition as well as ensuring momentum is maintained.

At the people and workforce level, the scale of the four new entities will mean new development opportunities for the people who deliver our water services now, and attract new people into the sector.

I want to thank the people responsible in the NTU for the work they are doing in this regard, because they understand how important it is to look after people and make sure we give as much certainty during the transition.

We are taking a comprehensive and systematic approach to staffing the new entities and grasping the opportunity to move the existing workforce up the skills and capability curve.

We are looking to the wider water sector and industries within it to work with us to realise the full potential of these plans.

By doing so, we want to create conditions for the workforce to thrive, advance and take pride in this sector.

I am pleased to hear about the level of engagement so far within the three waters workforce.  

The NTU recently called for feedback on Proposed Staff Transition Guidelines. These Guidelines have a clear purpose – to retain our existing three waters workforce and bring them into the entities in secure roles.

The feedback confirmed that staff want early certainty, job security and to retain and develop the skills, knowledge and relationships that they will bring with them into the water services entities.

I acknowledge every worker that took the time to speak up for themselves, colleagues and the national workforce through their personal feedback, their Union or Council. I understand that the NTU will be ensuring that the final guidelines reflect that feedback.

It is crucial that we provide certainty to staff as early as possible. It is our current workforce, including many of you in this room, who will form the foundations of the new entities.

The NTU is also currently partnering with Councils and Iwi to develop ‘Entity Initial Asset Management Plans’ which will set out the capital and operating work programme for 10 years.

The Entity Initial Asset management plans will be approved by the Entity Boards by mid-2023. These plans will ensure that the existing Three Waters infrastructure investment pipeline continues and the transition from Councils to the Water Service entities does not interrupt the supply chain.

Concluding remarks

The current changes and reform present us with the opportunity to be aspirational about how we want key services to be delivered in the future.

Through our engagement with iwi/Māori we have worked to ensure that Te Mana o te Wai considerations will be front and centre of the new delivery system - this approach will benefit the whole system of reform.

It is important we continue to work together as we approach Day 1 of the new water service delivery system. Your expertise and support is much appreciated.

Momentum on achieving this program outlined continues at pace and I thank you for working with us to keep moving forward – all the best for conference.