A dry argument about owning water

Alf apologises for being somewhat tardy in reporting a significant ruling from Mr Speaker yesterday.

He has been minded to alert readers to the ruling while adding a bit of water to his scotch and musing on ownership rights to his drink and its contents.

Mr Speaker said nobody owns water.

This could be put to the test, of course, by running off without paying for a few bottles of the stuff sold in fancy plastic containers at an outrageous price to fuckwit consumers.

The question of ownership was raised during a question and answer session about privatisation.

Labour’s Shane Jones asked Local Government Minister Rodney Hide if the proposed local government reform would facilitate private ownership or management of council assets.

RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government): The focus of the proposals is not to facilitate private ownership of existing council assets. They do, however, make it easier for the councils to use private sector management of council assets where this best suits council needs. In the context of water services, the councils must retain control of policy and pricing. The councils can already contract any aspect of the operation of all or part of a water service. That was the rule under the previous Government; it will remain the rule. The change announced yesterday simply extends the period of the contract from 15 years to 35 years to reflect the life of the assets being invested in.

Hon Shane Jones: Given the importance of water infrastructure to Auckland, could the Minister tell the House who owns water?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: Maybe I could ask the MP…

Alf was eager to hear the rest of the reply when Mr Speaker stepped in.

Mr SPEAKER: The interesting thing about this question is that, strictly, water is not the Minister’s responsibility, at all. Water is not owned by anyone. I guess the member may have meant certain water, not just water at large. I invite him to make the question more within the Standing Orders, then perhaps we can get an answer.

Jones and others raised points of order before he got on with things and asked:

In the changes to the Local Government Act 2002 to address the concerns of the Minister in relation to infrastructure, and the use of that resource called water, what ownership rights does he imagine will be recognised, and ought to be recognised, to protect the public’s interest in water?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: I will do my best. I am happy to have two goes at the answer, if I have misunderstood the member’s question.

Hide is a smart-arse like Jones, of course, and the pair locked horns in pointless verbal scrapping before Mr Speaker brought the buggers back to order. .

Hide then got on with it:

To make it clear to the House and to the public of New Zealand, there are no Government plans to privatise water services. Ownership of water assets, under the proposals, would revert to the councils at the end of any management agreement; thus the councils would retain ultimate public ownership. What has changed is that the period has gone from 15 years to 35 years. I note also that there are over 1,800 private water supply schemes registered with the Ministry of Health—that is 1,800.

They are privately owned schemes that existed under the previous Government and will continue to exist.

That should shut up the scaremongers who are persistently banging on about privatisation.

Alas, it won’t.

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