Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: National and NZ First attack Labour's water policy as treaty minefield

National ramped up its attack on Labour's water royalties policy. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email, the focus is on how water is shaping up as one of the hot election topics.

1. National escalates water attack

National ramped up its attack on Labour's water royalties policy yesterday, accusing Labour of stumbling into a Treaty settlements minefield in a faint echo of the Foreshore and Seabed debacle.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson launched the broadside with a claim that Labour's policy would force the reopening of previous settlements, although this was immediately challenged by the policy's architect, David Parker, who said previous agreements specifically exempted water.

"It opens a complete Pandora's Box. I'd like to know if it is Labour Party policy that, after all the work we've done -- both political parties over 25 years -- are they proposing to re-open treaty settlements so that this matter can be looked at?," Finlayson told the Herald.

Prime Minister Bill English followed it up in his final post-cabinet news conference before the election, saying Labour had stumbled into an area that could cause problems with settlements, although he did not repeat Finlayson's comment about re-opening settlements.

"A royalty implies ownership and that ownership will certainly been contested by iwi. Up to now, Government has never asserted ownership in that way," English said.

"It's another half thought through policy done on the fly because it looks politically attractive," he said.

"Their attitude is reckless. We've worked very hard to preserve the Crown's position, we've worked very hard to respect Maori rights and interests and we've been able to make major progress in lifting our environmental standards."

English was challenged about the Government's own consideration of charging for bottled water. He acknowledged it was a difficult issue.

"We can't see a way you can apply a royalty that does not end up with a contest over the ownership of that water," he said.

"We're going through a process that treads very carefully and respectfully through that minefield. The Labour Party have blundered in, asserted ownership, so that's going to be contested. The other question is what their proposed coalition partner Winston Peters thinks about it."

2. 'It's just scaremongering'

Labour's water spokesman David Parker responded to Finlayson's comments with an attack of his own on the view that treaty settlements would need to be reopened.

He described the comments as scaremongering.

“First, they made false and outrageous claims about price increases and, then, Chris Finlayson falsely alleged this will reopen full and final Treaty settlements. He is wrong, as Sir Edward Durie - head of the Maori Council, and whose former roles include High Court judge and Chair of the Waitangi Tribunal - has said," he said.

"Mr Finlayson knows the settlements with iwi include an express clause stating that freshwater claims are unresolved," Parker said.

"The current Ngati Tuwharetoa settlement currently before Parliament Deed of Settlement expressly states does not affect any rights of iwi and hapu in relation to water in clauses 4.17 to 4.20. Mr Finlayson also knows the settlements with other iwi – including Ngai Tahu and Tainui – are the same. Each includes a similar clause." he said.

English challenged the comment about Ngai Tahu's agreement in the news conference.

3. Winston chimes in too

As if to emphasise the sensitivity and heat in the issue, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters chimed in with his own attacks on both National and Labour with a release titled: "National backs race-based water taxes."

Peters cited clauses in the Tuwharetoa agreement that he said represented a system of 'koha for consents'. The agreement sets up a statutory body that would work with the Waikato Regional Council and the Taupo Regional Council to jointly manage the catchment.

The clauses also refer to the creation of market-based systems for trading water allocations, but not to the creation of royalties.

Peters described it as a secret deal by National that was as bad as Labour's 'water tax'.

"The two old parties has National selling out and writing race-based water ownership into law whilst accusing Labour’s proposed water tax of being the trigger to justify it," he said.

"New Zealand First cannot and will not support more racial separatism and more expensive food and power prices from either party."

What had appeared a simple attempt to raise funds to pay for waterway cleanups has turned into a full-on debate about treaty rights and 'racial separatism.'

It's safe to add water to housing and migration as three of the hottest topics in the election campaign.

4. 'A water probe too dangerous to fund'

Water is a hot topic in many ways, including how quality is measured and whether central and local governments really want to know the full extent of the degradation around pathogens and nitrates because of dairy intensification and inadequate water infrastructure in cities.

The creator of an inexpensive floating water monitor suspects the Government is unwilling to fund a device that would show how bad our water quality is, Newsroom's Lynn Grieveson reports.

Wairarapa farmer Grant Muir yesterday launched a PledgeMe campaign to raise cash for beta testing of the award-winning 'RiverWatch' device he and biologist son James developed in conjunction with Victoria University.

Muir said he suspected the Government was not keen on having the true state of New Zealand's rivers, lakes and harbours revealed because it knows there is a huge spend needed on infrastructure as well as potential limits on agricultural intensification.

"They know what's happening and all we can think is that up to now there hasn't been a willingness by government to get this data out there. I can tell you right now the data is bad, and is probably the worst in our cities, it really is," Muir said.

"I used to think it was mainly the farmers, but it's not. Some of the worst pollution is happening right under our noses … there are major problems in Manukau Harbour with heavy metals, E. coli, sewerage - and Porirua harbour is a cesspool, an absolute cesspool," he said.

"I think that is one of the reasons why we haven't received government input because government is thinking, firstly, 'it's going to cost us too much because we know the infrastructure in our cities isn't up to standard' – and, 'gosh, what are we going to do if dairy production goes down?'"

"So the government is looking at it that they are going to get hit at both ends."

See Lynn's report in full in Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

5. Boot camps vs drivers' licenses

Youth issues have become a focal point as the election draws near, with the two major parties striding in opposite directions in the past few days. Both parties announced policies in the area, but both had a familiar sheen to them.

National’s plan to send 50 of the worst youth offenders to a military academy had many remembering a similar boot camp system announced in the past.

Yesterday Labour joined the fray in revealing a “School Leavers’ Toolkit” that would include driver education and training, financial literacy and budgeting advice, and civics training.

Asked about Labour’s policy at the post-cab press conference, Prime Minister Bill English said many students had no interest in learning how to drive while schools already had the ability to offer such teaching as National Standards.

You can read more about the details of Labour’s policy here on from Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw on Newsroom Pro.

6. Numbers of the day

100,400 – The record number of people by which New Zealand’s population grew by for the year ended June, as reported by Statistics New Zealand. The population increase is the largest ever for a year to June. Net migration (arrivals minus departures) contributed 72,300 people to the growth, along with 28,100 from natural increase (births minus deaths). The increase equates to a 2.1% rise in our resident population, which as of June was estimated to be 4.79 million people. New Zealand's net migration rate of 15.2 per thousand population is three times faster than Britain's net migration rate (5.1), twice as fast as Australia's (7.6) and five times faster than for the United States (3.1).

15– The number of electric vehicle charging station projects which Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins announced would receive funding yesterday. The projects will altogether receive a total of $3 million from the Low Emission Vehicles Contestable Fund, administered by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. This will include nearly $1m of funding being put towards charging stations in popular South Island tourist routes. A second round of funding where another $3m is available was also announced. Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett announced on Saturday that one in three cars in the Government's car fleet would be electric by 2021.

4.2 percent – The price and seasonally-adjusted increase in retail sales volumes in New Zealand’s food and beverage services industry for the quarter to June 2017. 23,000 visitors from England and Ireland, many who travelled here for the Lions Series, are thought to have been a significant contributor to our food and drink providers, as well as accommodation retailers. The overall retail sales volume rose 2.0 percent in the June quarter, following on from a 1.6 percent rise in the previous March quarter. This was higher than economists' expectations of a rise of 0.7 percent.

7. Coming up...

There's no doubt now that the election will be on September 23. Bill English yesterday signed signed the proclamation for the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and signed the writ for the Electoral Commission to conduct the election.

National confirmed its campaign launch will be on August 27 in Auckland. The next couple of weeks is shaping up as an intense start to the election campaign, with Treasury's PREFU due on August 23 and the final day of Parliament on Thursday.

In terms of the political economy, next Monday's migration figures are likely to be closely watched.

8. One fun thing

The predicament of Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was the talk of the town yesterday. Now confirmed as a New Zealand citizen, he may have to resign if a High Court decision forces him to. That's a problem for Malcolm Turnbull's Government, which is in power with one seat majority.

Much hilarity ensued on Twitter.

Hamish Rutherford on Twitter:

"I was wondering why all those Australian politicians were giving us such special treatment..."

Simon Wong:

"Hey @Barnaby_Joyce, I hear National has an opening in the Clutha-Southland seat."

Jon Kudelka:

"Deputy Prime Minister And New Zealand Sleeper Agent Barnaby Joyce."

Sam Neill:

"OH MY GOD! The worst has happened! The Australian Parliament is full of-gasp- NEW ZEALANDERS! The horror! The treachery! AAARRGH!"

Australian political reporter Alice Workman:

"Vote for Jacinda" - Labor heckle as Barnaby Joyce gets up to answer a dixer #qt