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Water tax issues 'tricky': English

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 19/03/2017

Complex questions around the ownership of water in New Zealand will have to be answered before the government considers taxing companies exporting bottled water, Prime Minister Bill English says.

A petition calling for a moratorium on bottled water exports was presented to parliament last week and opposition parties have strongly supported it, with Labour leader Andrew Little saying it is "crazy" companies aren't being charged for the water they export.

But Prime Minister Bill English on Monday told 1News the government wouldn't be willing to consider a tax on water exports unless answers could be found to some "pretty difficult" questions about water ownership.

"In New Zealand it's always been the case that we've said that no one owns the water. That's been the basis of everyone being able to have access to water and its use basically whenever they want," he said.

The bottling companies only actually used a "very small" amount of water available and a tax would raise questions about whether other water-heavy industries - such as wine, dairy or tourism - should be charged as well.

Last week Environment Minister Nick Smith said the amount of water being used and profit being made by companies exporting water were overstated.

"It's just a bit unusual to start a debate around bottled water when it's such a teeny weeny fraction, and is having no substantive impact on either the quality of water or minimum flow."

Dr Smith said the amount of bottled water exported last year was a million litres down on the year before.

In July, Ashburton District Council backed off a plan to sell a 10ha site with the right to extract 40 billion litres of water from the local aquifer over the next 30 years following a protest campaign.

Last week's petition was also backed up by 19 rallies across the country calling for better protection for fresh water.

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