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Barrie Saunders: $100 billion nationalisation but where is the business media?

If the Government gets its way, around $100 billion of community owned three waters assets, will be effectively nationalised. They will be placed in the hands of the most convoluted monopoly structure I have seen, with iwi leaders substantially in the drivers’ seat.


One might have thought a transaction of this scale would have attracted the attention of our business journalists, capable of going beyond the so called co-governance aspect.


Are property rights too boring for business journalists these days to matter?


I read the serious media including the NZ Herald and Business Desk, but as yet have not seen any articles, which dealt with the relevant elements.


I have read articles by political journalists looking at it all from a political angle, and swiping anyone who might question governance arrangements as racist or dog whistling.


I may have missed it, but I have not seen anything in mainstream or business media that thoroughly dissects the case for nationalisation and whether the extraordinarily complex arrangements embodied in the proposal, will deliver the benefits claimed.


This is seriously important for everyone, so why have mainstream media not allocated a significant journalistic resource to it?


After living in a few other countries, I came back to NZ, in part because I thought it was a quality democracy, and also because it had a free media, albeit one not as sophisticated or as well resourced as that in Australia, the UK, Canada and the US.


While our Governments can swing from left to right and the media rolls with it, I never predicted our mainstream media would turn a blind eye to assaults on the quality of our democracy, including the conflict of interest issues around the Mahuta family.


There are some who think journalists have been bought off by government money. That will be true for some cases but I suspect it’s more likely they are either happy to ride along with the proposals, or are simply too scared of the critics, to engage in this important issue.


Either way it reflects very badly on our business media and leader writers. When I compare the risks take by war journalists and those who live in authoritarian countries such as Russia and Hungary, I know where courageous journalists live. It is not New Zealand.


It’s not too late guys. Just read the Bill and look at what some non mainstream media is publishing.


These are key questions to ask:


  1. Are the three waters operations across the country so uniformly bad, wholesale state control is justified?

  2. How should local authorities be compensated for their loss of property rights?

  3. If there is to be forced aggregation is four entities the right number, or should it be more like ten to allow some natural groupings to form?

  4. Why are they not based regional council boundaries and why is Gisborne lumped in with Wellington and Nelson?

  5. How can captive customers ensure the new entities are not typical flabby monopolies that gold plate their systems?

  6. Why should iwi have a dominant governance position of assets created by communities since 1840?

  7. Could the new system lead to the entities paying iwi royalties for water which originally comes from the skies?



About Barrie Saunders: For 25 years I was a Government Relations consultant retiring from Saunders Unsworth in 2015. Earlier work included journalism in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, public relations roles in Parliament, manufacturing and the meat industry – also in the late 1980s the North American Director of the NZ Meat Producers Board based in New York. I was President of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce 2000-2002 and was Chairman of the NZ Taxpayers Union from 2018 until March 2021.

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