There have been several developments in the Government's contentious reform of our major three waters infrastructure but one key element remains; unaddressed and apparently unassailable.
A working group - made up of council and iwi representatives- set up to hear the rising numbers of objectors returned this month with suggested changes. The Local Government Minister received the working party report and conceded errors had been made in rolling out the reform.
What has not changed, however, and an elephant in the room, is the approach to co-governance.
Under the proposed model, councils will continue to own their water assets but they will not have complete control over them. Their influence on the water entities will be via regional representative groups who will be 50 per cent council members and 50 per cent iwi.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has said she hopes the Three Waters co-governance model will help "councils and mana whenua work together for the benefit of catchments".
Former NZ First MP Shane Jones this week cited the reform as an example of how the Treaty of Waitangi is being dragged into policy areas "where it is of dubious value". Jones said this "alienates people and eats away the goodwill of past decades".
Few, if any, dispute the Treaty of Waitangi is binding for this country and we share obligations to the principles of the document. There may be a compelling case to extend these principles into control of our water supply and disposal but we simply haven't seen it.
Mahuta has conceded mistakes were made in communicating the extent of the problems with existing infrastructure and in apportioning blame for any such problems but she has not resiled from the co-governance model.
In the "case for change" tabled early in the Three Waters reform, there was mention of "meeting iwi/Māori aspirations". This is undoubtedly a desirable outcome, but how the Three Waters scheme delivers on this hasn't been detailed.
Key findings of the working group noted issues from the original version around ownership, protection against privatisation and the ability to maintain a local voice within large entities.
The Three Waters working group also recommended the co-governance model be preserved, and extended to embrace Te Ao Māori "to improve Three Waters service delivery and environmental protection".
Mahuta hasn't yet announced the outcomes but has sung the praises of the recommendations from the working group.
"I want to thank the working group for the breath of fresh air that they have breathed into this and I am considering the range of helpful recommendations that they have put forward to strengthen governance, representation and local voice."
Interestingly, the Working Group also rebuked the Government for its communication around the reforms, urging it to do better. We can only agree.
Because of this vacuum, whether the co-governance model is a good idea or bad is hard to discern. What we do know is, there has not been enough communication about why it is necessary and how it is supposed to work.