The Green Party has launched its election campaign focusing on what it hopes will be a hot-button issue: charging companies that sell or export bottled water from New Zealand.

At its campaign launch in Nelson, Green Party co-leader James Shaw set out new policy to charge water bottlers 10 cents a litre on sales and exports of bottled water, saying companies that profited from New Zealand's water should pay for the privilege.

It would also place an interim ban on any new consents being given to bottle water. The revenue from the water levy would be split and distributed 50/50 to local councils and the mana whenua [local Maori] where the water was from.

Councils would be expected to ringfence it to use for cleaning waterways and drinking water supplies. Shaw said the split for local Maori was in recognition that long-term solutions to water charging had to recognise Treaty of Waitangi rights.

Advertisement

About 73 companies have consents to take water for bottling, about 23 billion litres a year - but pay just $200 a year to do to. About 27 million litres was exported in 2016.

The Greens policy pointed to the public outrage over issues such as a block of land being sold in Ashburton with rights to bottle and export 40 million litres of pure water while locals using bore waters in the same area had high nitrate levels.

The party also intends to forge ahead with a plan to charge all commercial users of water, such as for irrigation. It said in Government it would develop a fair way of doing that, consulting with interested groups.

Shaw said water bottling and exporting was not the only sector which was profiting from the use of water, and better protection was needed as well as fair charging. In some cases rivers were being sucked dry to provide water for irrigation.

He said thousands of New Zealanders had been impacted by contaminated drinking water scares, such as in Havelock North last year.

"At the same time, water bottling companies are taking the purest, cleanest water out from under our feet."

Shaw said the Greens also wanted better regulations to protect the sources of drinking water and would reinstate funding for small communities and marae to improve their drinking water sources.

The Greens policy to charge for water is similar to that of NZ First which has also proposed charging to take bottled water and returning some of the revenue to the regions. However, NZ First leader Winston Peters has described the Green's policy as separatist because of the Green's assertion Maori have ownership rights over water.

Advertisement

Labour also intends to look at charging commercial users of water, including in the agricultural sector.

The Green Party chose Nelson for its campaign launch because it is aiming for its candidate Matt Lawrey to try to win the electorate from National's Nick Smith. It is only the second time it has targeted an electorate - former co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons was Coromandel MP in the past.

It will have its party conference next week where further policy will be unveiled.