Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey says his views on overseas companies bottling New Zealand water have not changed after being called out on a social media post he made two years ago.

Attention to the post has come in the wake of the coalition Government's decision to allow Creswell NZ Limited, wholly owned by Chinese bottled water supplier Nongfu Spring Co, to purchase a Bay of Plenty spring and export more than one billion litres of drinking water each year.

As well as seeking approval from the Government to buy the land, Creswell NZ also applied for resource consent from the Whakatane District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, for expansion of the existing Otakiri Springs water bottling plant on the site.

The two-year-old post is a video of Coffey talking on his public Facebook page about the selling of New Zealand water for profit by overseas companies and the pittance they pay to do so. In the video, Coffey says it is an issue that "cuts to the heart of New Zealanders".

Advertisement

"What I'm thinking is, we become quite decisive and we take action, because we need to send a message to the Government that it's not good enough and that New Zealanders really care about it," Coffey said in the 2016 video.

Now, as a member of Government that has made the decision to allow more water to be sold offshore, questions are being asked of the MP.

Since the Government approved the sale earlier this week, close to 20 new comments have been made on the video.

One comment, posted on Thursday said "Now that you are the government what action do you take? Grant application for the Chinese company to purchase and expand the water bottling plant you speak of here."

"Weas [sic] your action now e hoa," a woman posted on Wednesday. "Get into Govt then sign it over to a Chinese company? Please explain", another asked.

One of the new comments suggest a high tariff be placed on New Zealand water while another says New Zealanders need to build their own bottling plant so profits remain in the country.

Coffey told the Rotorua Daily Post the decision to allow Creswell NZ to purchase the land was made in line with current law and following Overseas Investment Office (OIO) legislation.

"Ministers and members can't make decisions that break the law, but the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill is currently before Parliament, and we are reviewing it on this basis," he said.

Advertisement

When asked if his views on foreign-owned companies using New Zealand resources for profit had changed since his party came into office, Coffey said his voice echoed that of the community.

"We need to see an export levy on water bottling and that remains unchanged. Thankfully this levy remains part of the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First.

"While I acknowledge iwi such as Ngāti Manawa and Ngāti Rangiwewehi, who are actively pursuing water bottling as a means of employment and economic sustainability, I do acknowledge those iwi Māori who will be unhappy with this decision.

"The previous Government chose not to deal with these issues, and hence the current laws stand.

"Minister [Kelvin] Davis is now working through the issues around iwi water rights. No decisions have yet been made and I will be keeping all local iwi updated on this process.

"In the meantime, Minister [David] Parker is working through a range of options to progress policy around a water bottling levy, focusing on ensuring that those who are profiting from bottling our water provide a fair return to the people of New Zealand."

Whakatane district councillor Mike van der Boom has been part of a neighbourhood group that has been fighting the expansion of Otakiri Springs for the past 18 months.

Van der Boom, who owns a property neighbouring Otakiri Springs, said the coalition Government's approval had left members of the group feeling as if they had attended a wake.

"We're tired. We've been fighting for 18 months and now we feel impotent – it's not our fight any more, we've been defeated."

Van der Boom said the sale of water clearly made New Zealanders nervous.

"We need to have a moratorium on granting consents until there is further clarity on water ownership."

He said public outcry during the past two days had come a little too late.

"Approval has been given by Government, and both regional and district councils – it's going to be pretty hard to stop anything now.

"However, what it should do is sound alarm bells for the coalition Government, they need to do something so this doesn't happen again. The OIO also need a shake-up when it comes to the sale of assets to overseas buyers.

"I do feel for the politicians, they really are between a rock and a hard place on this one."

East Coast MP Anne Tolley said she was delighted with the decision, and that the proposal met the OIO criteria.

"The extra jobs created, and the wider service industries that will also benefit, are most welcome in the Eastern Bay of Plenty which still has too many people reliant upon unemployment benefits."

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne has publicly supported the expansion, saying Nongfu had made a commitment to the Eastern Bay community "to the tune of 50 full-time jobs at a new, state-of-the-art facility".

He said the flow-on effect would include employment in transport, maintenance and tourism.

Labour MP Kiri Allan could not be reached for comment.