The sale of New Zealand water to overseas bottling companies was one of the reasons the Government changed, Green Party co-leader James Shaw says.
His co-leader Marama Davidson announced today the Greens had secured a commitment from its government partners that the issue of water sales, particularly to overseas bottling companies, would be looked at for inclusion in any changes to the Overseas Investment Act.
“You remember the election campaign, water and in particular the sale of water and in particular issues around bottled water were one of the really big issues. And I would argue it‘s one of the reasons the Government changed actually,” Shaw told reporters.
Both Labour and New Zealand First promised during the election campaign to put a price on water, Labour through a broad pricing scheme and NZ First through a royalty.
Their coalition agreement to impose a levy has yet to come to anything.
National opposed a levy, and a report on possible pricing commissioned by the previous Government did not eventuate.
Davidson said there were very few protections for water under the previous National Government.
“We‘ve managed to get this, a commitment on the agenda, that seeks to fix the law and make those protections, for sale of water in particular, stronger,” she said.
Work is getting under way on a second round of amendments to the Overseas Investment Act and under the concession won by the Greens, the review will now consider whether water extraction should be a factor considered when weighing up whether a sale should be approved.
“The ‘benefits to New Zealand‘ criteria that can be used to approve or decline sales does not include water extraction. They should,” said Davidson, the party‘s water spokeswoman.
“We will review the benefits test in section 17 of the Act and ensure consideration of water extraction issues is front and centre,” she said.
“Water should not be for sale to the highest bidder. Changing the law is a key step towards protecting it for the generations ahead.”
The announcement, made at the Green Party‘s annual general meeting in Palmerston North today, was met with delight by the more than 200 party members who attended.
Some sales of New Zealand property to overseas owners are classed as sensitive under the Overseas Investment Act and require ministerial approval.
At present, ministers are restricted in their decision-making to only economic factors, not environmental factors.
That was the case for Conservation Minister and Green MP Eugenie Sage when she signed off on the expansion of a Chinese-owned water-bottling plant near Whakatane.
She and her party were widely criticised by Greens supporters who saw it as a slap in the face for party values.
In her keynote speech on the first day of the two-day meeting, Davidson said outright ownership of water was anathema to both Māori and Green values.
“The Greens recognise the intrinsic value of freshwater and its inalienable right to be protected from pollution and over-use. But we are also very clear that Māori have rangatira and kaitiaki rights over water, guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”
The Crown had a responsibility to work alongside tangata whenua for the protection and restoration of water.
“On this, the Greens are holding true to our longstanding position. Protecting the environment and recognising Māori rights go hand-in-hand. You cannot achieve one without the other.”