New Zealand Law Society - Select committee recommends passage of drinking water legislation

Select committee recommends passage of drinking water legislation

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Parliament's Health Committee has examined the Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Bill and released a report recommending that it be passed with amendments.

The bill was introduced on 5 May 2018 by Health Minister David Clark following recommendations made by the Government Inquiry into Havelock North Drinking Water after a contamination incident in August 2016.

The policy objectives of this bill are to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of Part 2A of the Health Act 1956 without materially affecting any party or imposing new or additional costs.

The bill as introduced would remove requirements for the Ministry of Health to consult for 3 years and gazette changes for 2 years before making any changes to drinking-water standards, clarify that water safety plans must include timetables to implement measures that mitigate risks to drinking water, streamline processes for the appointment of drinking-water assessors and remove unnecessary references to designated ports and airports.

Regard to relevant matters when taking all practical steps

The committee has concerns that the way s69H(1) is structured gives greater priority to the availability and affordability of steps rather than public health, therefore recommends inserting clause 4A to replace s69H. This would change the structure of the section so that all relevant matters are given equal weight.

Evidence of affordability

Section 69H(3)(b) should be replaced to require a person who wants to use the unaffordability reason to provide evidence showing that the step is not affordable, and to justify why it is not practical to take the step. The current section only requires that a person tells an assessor that a step is not affordable.

Removing all practicable steps

Sections 69S and 69V specify the duty of a water supplier to “take all practicable steps” to comply with drinking water standards. The committee recommends inserting clauses 6A and 7A to amend and remove those words. This would clarify the responsibilities of the water suppliers.

Water safety plans

The committee recommends inserting clause 7A(3) to amend 69V(2) so that the implementation of the water safety plan must be to the satisfaction of a drinking-water assessor, not the drinking-water supplier.

Notification of changes to standards

Clause 5(3) should be inserted to update the public notice provisions, to reflect current practice and allow internet publication.

Currently section 69P(1)(a) states that a notice of the intention to issue, adopt or amend the standards must be published in a daily newspaper in each of the cities of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The committee recommends amending this section to replace the reference to daily papers with reference to new section 69P(3) so that public notice provisions are consistent with current practice.

Management and control of critical points

The committee considers that clause 8 should refer to the management of critical points identified in the water safety plan. Under the current legislation it has been challenging to take regulatory action against a drinking-water supplier who is not fully compliant.

The committee recommends amending clause 8 as introduced to insert new section 69Z(8)(c) to ensure that the “management and control” of critical points is included in the duty to prepare and implement a water safety plan. This would strengthen the water safety plans that have a critical impact on public health.