Steamrolling democracy again
After a sham select committee process which waste submitters’ time, the government is planning to use urgency today to steamroll its Muldoonist RMA fast track bill through Parliament.
I’ve talked before about what’s wrong with the Bill. As mentioned above, its pure Muldoonism, bypassing the participatory RMA process with a Ministerial rubber-stamp. This isn’t just bad because it is undemocratic and authoriatarian and creates a nexus for corruption – it will also deprive the decision-making panels of the evidence they need to make good decisions. And we’ll be stuck with the consequences of those poor decisions for decades to come.
Perhaps in an effor tto mitigate this – or rather, give the impression that it is mitigating this – the Bill requires consenting panels to notify and invite comments from a select group of environmental NGOs. Effectively these groups are being statutorily appointed as proxies for the whole of New Zealand. But they will receive no resources to do the job they are being asked to do, have only ten working days to respond to any submission, and it is not clear whether they are legally allowed to tell anyone about it or crowdsource public comments so they can make high-quality submissions and present the evidence that the panels need to see. Its even worse when you consider the threshold the Minister, with their choice of listed projects, has set: 30-50 jobs. In terms of your project, that’s basicly the size of your local supermarket. And its the government’s apparent position that any project of that scale should go through the Minister – perhaps greasing the party’s palm on the way – and then through the rubberstamp process. Which means that if the law works as apparently intended, these NGOs are going to be swamped. Even if there is extremely strong gatekeeping from the Minister, and it is only a handful of projects a month, they are not going to be able to effectively do the job the government is demanding of them (for free).
But then, maybe that’s the point. The RMA is an adversarial system. And you break an adversarial system by massively outgunning and overworking one side. But the consequence of that is that a) the system doesn’t work properly; and b) the results are not perceived as legitimate. What the government gains in speed from its rubberstamp may very well be lost to protests and occupations.
The Green Party,
Green Party opposes RMA fast-track bill that cut corners on environmental safeguards and public consultation
The Green Party has opposed the COVID-19 Recovery Fast-track Consenting Bill which shortcuts normal consenting processes under the Resource Management Act (RMA), reduces public participation and narrows environmental considerations.
Green Party Co-leader James Shaw said today:
“Although the bill was put forward with good intent, and the Greens have worked constructively throughout to improve it, in the end we could not support it. The bill aims to fast-track some large scale projects, but sacrifices public input, council decision making, and a thorough consideration of the environmental impacts.
“Public participation provides decision makers with more information and enables communities to participate in decisions which affect their neighbourhoods and places they care about. We didn’t feel this bill quite achieved that.
“The Greens have worked constructively to improve the bill at all stages – during the policy stages, its drafting and in parliament. We would like to thank Environment Minister David Parker for working with us in good faith to improve the bill, despite us ultimately deciding not to support it in its entirety.
“We are satisfied that with the Greens at the table, the bill is much more robust than it would have been. Improvements include prioritising good green projects, better checks and balances on the Environment Minister’s powers, stronger environmental and climate safeguards, more extensive stakeholder and iwi consultation, and stronger te Tiriti protections.
Key improvements to the RMA fast-track bill which the Greens helped achieve include:
- Stronger criteria for the Minister for the Environment to consider when deciding whether to approve a project for the fast-track. These have included whether the project improves environmental outcomes, minimises waste and contributes to New Zealand’s efforts to mitigate climate change and transition more quickly to a low emissions economy.
- A wider range of government agencies providing advice on whether projects meet the fast-track criteria.
- More scope for the Environment Minister to decline projects applying for fast-track status, meaning they would proceed through the usual RMA consent process.
- Enabling the Expert Consenting Panels to hold public hearings.
- Giving Expert Consenting Panels the ability to decline consent, if projects are inconsistent with national policy instruments.
- Stronger reference to national instruments.
- Stronger te Tiriti o Waitangi protections.
- Naming particular organisations in the legislation, including environmental NGOs such as EDS, Generation Zero and Forest and Bird, from whom feedback must be sought about each proposed project.
- Removal of the ability for Waka Kotahi/NZTA and other infrastructure agencies to clear indigenous vegetation in significant natural areas as part of their permitted activities.