Water tax controversial but makes sense


They are home to precious plant and animal life, and have long been a source of enjoyment to New Zealanders. And yet, in this “clean, green” country, we are using our rivers as a dumping ground. In the absence of effective legislation, water quality continues to decline, and more and more of our children get sick from swimming and playing in our rivers.

The current minimum requirements for water quality is “suitable for wading or boating”. The government had proposed to introduce higher standards of water quality to meet “swimmable standards” however a report prepared by NIWA stated that applying the proposed standards to the current water quality of lakes and rivers in New Zealand, a shocking 43% would be considered swimmable. As water quality continues to decline, the number of people catching gastrointestinal illnesses from contaminated water increases. This is unacceptable and something more needs to be done.

Increasing the water quality in our rivers was one of the points of focus in the lead up to the election, with each Political Party having some form of a proposed policy to tackle this issue. One Party’s policy in particular has sparked widespread debate. Labour proposed the “Clean Water for Future Generations” policy, which aims to charge tax on large commercial users of water. The royalties will then be funnelled back into communities to fund the clean-up of rivers.

The water charges would apply to water bottlers and farms that irrigate water. The taxing of water however has been a contentious issue, with some arguing that the tax would be a drain on the rural sector as a whole and fearing that the price of agricultural produce would soar. On the face of it, it seemed that New Zealanders were against the principle of charging for commercial water usage. A Herald-ZB Kantar TNS online survey has shown however that 70% of people agree that commercial water users should pay a royalty for the use of to help clean up New Zealand’s waterways and they are in support of the idea, even if it means a higher cost to the consumer. Another article notes that there is widespread agreement that not enough is currently being done.

Any plan to clean up our rivers and waterways costs money, and the government needs to source that revenue from somewhere. It makes sense then that the users of water, in particular those who make a profit off of its use should pay a small royalty for that privilege. Looking at the bigger picture, cleaner water means a healthier environment for us and our families. It also means we can preserve our precious environment for our future generations to enjoy. 

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Lauran Bergin