It can be tough being a Minister in a progressive Government. Having a truck load of ministerial staff wanting to keep you on the non contentious straight and narrow, lots of laws to comply with, well resourced business interests wanting to ensure that every decision you make is to their benefit and an expectation from the good people who put you into Parliament that you will make the world a better place.
Green Minister Eugenie Sage has received some flack lately. She made a decision under the Overseas Investment Act to allow a Chinese company to purchase a bottling plant and some sensitive land so it could bottle and export water. Local Green members hated the decision.
Radio New Zealand has the details:
The Green Party is facing blowback from supporters who say it has sold out after one of its ministers allowed a Chinese water bottling giant to expand.
Senior Green MP and Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage has approved the expansion of an existing Otakiri Springs water bottling plant near Whakatāne.
Creswell NZ – which is owned by Chinese water bottler Nongfu Spring – lodged the application.
Ms Sage said she thought long and hard about the decision, but her hands were tied by the law.
“I made my decision as a minister. My internal feelings are irrelevant,” she said.
The application satisfied the criteria set out in the Overseas Investment Act, she said.
“It was using the criteria in the Act … if there is a substantial and identifiable benefit for New Zealanders … then the decision must be granted.”
Local members hated the decision although co leader Marama Davidson accurately assessed the merits of the decision. Again from Radio New Zealand:
Hundreds of commenters have lashed out on Ms Sage’s Facebook page, with many labelling her a “sellout”.
On Twitter, former Green MP Sue Bradford called the decision a “betrayal” and a “sad day for Green voters”.
The Greens campaigned last election on banning new water bottling consents and putting a charge on water exports.
Ms Sage said the government included special enforcement conditions to ensure the company did provide its promised 60 jobs for New Zealanders.
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said the decision went against Green Party kaupapa and policy.
But she said the minister was constrained by a flawed Act.
“It was always going to be hard … but we will continue to uphold our kaupapa on this while also understand the constraints of the minister.”
Some details of the decision have been reported on the Government’s Land Information website. The relevant details are:
The Applicant is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nongfu Spring Co. Limited, a large bottled water supplier based in China. The Applicant has been granted consent to acquire the land identified above upon which there is an existing water bottling facility and kiwifruit orchard.
The Applicant intends to expand the water bottling facility and, in particular:
- introduce into New Zealand approximately $42 million within four years to improve the plant and to introduce two high speed bottling lines;
- increase productivity on the Land as a result of increasing daily bottling capacity by approximately 900%;
- create full-time equivalent positions on the Land, and retain existing jobs associated with the water bottling business bringing FTE jobs to a total of 60 once the water bottling facility reaches full capacity; and
- generate more than $65 million in new export receipts.
We consider that these benefits are substantial and identifiable in the context of the land being acquired, being approximately 6 hectares of rural land, and with reference to the nature and extent of the Applicant’s proposed investment,
As a condition of consent, the Applicant may only acquire the Land if relevant regional and district councils grant to the Applicant the required resource consents to undertake certain activities necessary to give effect to the Investment.
So same land, increased production, more jobs and $65 million in export receipts. And RMA hoops to jump through although they can be frustratingly easy.
The relevant section of the Act requires, in the case of sensitive rural land over 5 hectares in size, that the relevant Ministers “determine that that benefit will be, or is likely to be, substantial and identifiable”. There are other requirements but from the looks of the decision they were all met. Once this and the other tests were met Sage did not really have a choice.
She could have said no. Then as fast as you could say Judicial Review the decision would have been reversed by the High Court.
The solution is a law change. I hope this decision accelerates work on amendments to the Act. And that work is done on the Treaty of Waitangi claim concerning water. Because water is clearly a taonga under article two of the treaty. Maori have made it clear that they are happy to share water with everyone but if someone is making a profit from its sale they have a legitimate expectation to a share.
But in the meantime blame my legal training and experience but I think Eugenie Sage had no choice and has acted the way a competent Minister should.