Metiria Turei questions the Minister for the Environment on bottled water charges

8. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Tū ai a ia i runga i te mana o tana korero: "There is a real fairness problem with charging bottled water for export"?

[Does he stand by his statement that "There is a real fairness problem with charging bottled water for export"?]

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I stand by my full quote, and that was: "There is a real fairness problem with charging bottled water for export in isolation from other users".

Metiria Turei: If that is case, is the Minister intending to extend subsidies to water bottlers, like his Government subsidises irrigation in this country?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This Government is investing in water infrastructure, such as irrigation schemes, in many instances where there are substantive dividends for water quality, and by increasing minimum flows in rivers, including an example in my own area. I am surprised the Green Party is opposed to those.

Metiria Turei: Does he not think the real unfairness is that NZ Pure Blue could take nearly $23 million worth of water from Blue Spring, near Pūtāruru, every day and yet pay only $6,900 a day for the privilege?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The total amount of export bottled water is about 9 million litres per year. Total water takes are 10 trillion litres a year. The Government's point is that if you are going to have a sensible discussion about pricing and allocation, you include all water users and do not separate out bottled water for special treatment.

Richard Prosser: Will he immediately adopt New Zealand First's unique policy, announced 15 months ago, of the only charge to be applied volumetrically to consented water takes being in the form of a royalty only, on any and all exports only, of water as water only, or do we have to wait another 88 days?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The problem I have with New Zealand First policy is that every time I look, it is a different policy. At the last election, New Zealand First's policy was that nobody would be charged for water. How it has suddenly changed since then—I just think it is part of the nimble-footed approach that New Zealand First's policy is whatever the last poll said.

Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Quite apart from being wrong, the Minister has no responsibility for New Zealand First policy.

Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty is that on this occasion, when Mr Prosser asked his question, he asked specifically whether the Government would adopt New Zealand First policy, which gave every chance for the Minister to then answer it.

Metiria Turei: Will the Minister guarantee that NZ Pure Blue will pay a fair rate of royalties, like it would if it was extracting or selling off oil, gas, coal, or any other natural resource?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Each resource needs to be carefully managed and considered. The key difference, of course, with fresh water is that there is 500 trillion litres of new water that comes into New Zealand's system each year. Last year the Government set up a technical advisory group on both the allocation and pricing of water. The issue of bottled water exports is one of the specific issues on which the Government has asked for advice on how it might proceed with reform.

Metiria Turei: Is it not the case that his Government's oil and gas export strategy is failing, with revenue declining, and so now it is moving on to try to flog off our most precious natural resource—water—but without a fair return to New Zealanders?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am so confused about the Green Party's position on oil and gas. Half the time it complains about the amount of revenue it generates for New Zealand, and now it is complaining that the industry is going backwards. I just think it is typical of the Greens—all over the paddock.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister genuinely believe it is fair that a company will pay less than $7,000 a day for a public water resource that has a retail price of $23 million a day once it is bottled? Does he think that is fair to New Zealanders?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I dispute the member's numbers. Statistics New Zealand says that, in total, last year 9 million litres of water was exported. That compares with a total extraction from New Zealand of 10 trillion litres for water users, more than 1 million times as much. What the Government is simply arguing is that if we are going to have a sensible discussion about water pricing and allocation, you need to consider water users over and above those who are for bottled water.