More than a third of New Zealanders don’t know what co-governance means for the Three Waters reforms, a poll has revealed, and one expert believes this has allowed space for fearmongering.
Those who said they did know were more likely to be older wealthy white men, according to a 1News-Kantar poll. Act Party supporters also said they had a good grasp on the concept.
Of those who responded to the poll, only 17 per cent said they had a good idea of what it meant.
The Government has instituted co-governance at the top of the new Three Waters entities, with the four new water entities responsible to co-governed boards.
The Government has also put an element of co-governance into the health reforms, creating a devolved Māori Health authority, which is responsible for elements of Māori health but also had a responsibility to co-design health plans for the wider population.
In January, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said: “No one understands what [co-governance] means because we’re talking about quite different things.”
Hipkins said it “hasn’t always been clear” what the Government meant when it talked about co-governance proposals in the past, and said it was to be clearer in the future - an issue which has drawn criticism.
Constitutional law expert Claire Charters also told 1News a lack of understanding has “permitted or allowed space for fearmongering.”
Hipkins last month accused National and Act of using uncertainty around co-governance to stoke fear.
“Those who seek to use misunderstanding around it for political advantage need to reflect on their own behaviour,” Hipkins said.
“I certainly think the Opposition - National and Act - have used, as they have done in the past, uncertainty to try and stoke fear.”
Policies that include co-governance have also proven to be unpopular with voters.
A Taxpayers’ Union-Curia Poll found 60 per cent of respondents opposed Three Waters compared to 23 per cent who supported it.
And while 45 per cent of respondents said they had a basic understanding of what co-governance meant in terms of three waters reforms, 34 per cent said they had no idea.
On whether the Government had failed to explain co-governance to New Zealanders, Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty said, “[the poll] shows the majority of people don’t really get what we’re trying to achieve.”
In January, Hipkins said there was “an uncertainty in New Zealanders about what we mean when we are talking about co-governance.
“I want to make sure that in each context we are very clear about what we mean and I acknowledge that that hasn’t always [been the case].”
Hipkins noted that under National, many treaty settlements included co-governance provisions for places like the Whanganui River and Te Urewera.
“The National government probably signed up to more co-governance arrangements through the Treaty process than any other government did. It means a different thing in a different context,” he said.