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Ardern on government’s U-turn on Three Waters entrenchment: ‘We are taking this as a team’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the post-caucus meeting conference on 16 August, 2022.

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Jacinda Ardern says the issue was the 60 percent level of entrenchment that was put forward.
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the entrenchment clause in the government’s Three Waters legislation was a mistake which the government is fixing.

The government has made a U-turn on the entrenchment rule which would have required 60 percent of votes in the House to overturn the legislation.

Last week, Ardern described the amendment to the bill as “quirky”.

Yesterday, leader of the House Chris Hipkins announced it would remove the clause saying it was “not typical”, and was not something the government was comfortable with doing.

Ardern told Morning Report the entrenchment provision was very narrow and only applied to the act of selling water assets.

The principle was supported by both the Green Party, which put the provision forward, and by Labour, she said.

The issue was the level of entrenchment put forward, she said.

“Entrenchment is commonly understood to be a super majority or 75 percent, here we had a novel approach which came before the House at 60, so you had a principle at issue here,” she said.

Asked whether she was aware the entrenchment clause would go to the House at 60 percent, Ardern said caucus discussions were not shared but entrenchment was commonly understood to be 75 percent.

“The important thing is it was a mistake, we’re fixing it.”

Even though Labour supported ensuring that water assets were not privatised, the way this had been done by using the entrenchment clause had wider ramifications, she said.

Ardern refused to point the finger at Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta over the issue, repeating that the entrenchment clause was a mistake.

“We are taking this as a team”,” she said.

“There’s actually in my view not a role for any one individual in this issue, this was a mistake, we as a team are fixing it, which will take probably about an hour of our time in Parliament.”

Ardern said she had confidence in Mahuta’s handling of Three Waters. It had been a hard issue but the government could not ignore what it had been told about the poor state of the country’s water infrastructure, she said.

Ardern said the entrenchment clause pointed to a wider issue that Parliament needed to address.

“The fact that you can put in an entrenchment provision with a lower threshold of this nature and there aren’t limitations on where it can apply, this has been a relatively untested area.”

A range of politicians now believed some “guard rails” needed to be put around entrenchment provisions, Ardern said.

This needed to come before all parties via the Standing Orders Committee to make sure there were checks to prevent such things happening in the future, she said.

Meanwhile, National Party leader Christopher Luxon agreed the clause should be removed, but said the prime minister needed to front on how it was allowed to happen in the first place.

Greens to keep pushing to protect public ownership of water

The Green Party is disappointed the government is now rejecting the decision to entrench an anti-privatisation clause.

Its local government spokesperson, Eugenie Sage, said the party called on National and Labour a year ago to back its plans to strengthen protections against privatisation of water.

“We flagged in our report from the select committee that we supported 60 percent entrenchment and we didn’t agree with officials’ advice.”

The Greens put forward the amendment to be voted on, she said.

“We were using the parliamentary process and standing orders specifically provides that if you have an entrenchment provision, it’s got to be voted on by the same majority that is in that clause – so we followed the whole parliamentary process, we flagged it in the select committee report.”

Sage said the bill was complex and Parliament was in urgency, which they opposed given it provided less opportunity to debate in the committee stages.

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