Towards Banana Republic Status

Written By: - Date published: 10:25 am, April 17th, 2024 - 27 comments
Categories: chris bishop, climate change, corruption, democracy under attack, Economy, energy, Environment, global warming, law and "order", national, nz first, Politics, same old national, Shane Jones - Tags:

There is a bill before Parliament right now that has the potential of blowing a rather big hole in our reputation as an open and transparent democracy.

It is the Fast-track Approvals Bill.

Its problems are myriad.

It is clearly rushed.

If enacted it would give Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown and Shane Jones extraordinary powers to approve projects that may potentially have major adverse effects on the environment.

There are two categories of projects. There are those listed in part A of schedule 2 of the Act which automatically get referred to an expert panel for consideration and those which the Ministers approve to be included for consideration.

There are limited criteria to take into account and limited ability to seek legal redress against a Ministerial decision to include a project for consideration. But for those lucky projects which are in part A of the schedule there will be very little that concerned citizens can do.

These projects do not have to meet the criteria contained in section 17 of the Bill. They do not have to be an identified priority project, or deliver regionally or nationally significant infrastructure, or increase the supply of housing or deliver significant economic benefits or support primary industries or the development of natural resources, or support climate change mitigation or recovery from natural hazards or address significant environmental issues or be consistent with local or regional environmental issues.

By their very inclusion they are deemed to be of national or regional significance.

But dear reader there is a major problem with schedule 2, for it is empty.

The Government has confirmed that the schedule will be completed before the legislation is passed. But the time for public submissions ends this Friday and it appears to be exceedingly unlikely that the projects will be announced any time soon. The Government has asked for applications for projects to be included and the timeframe does not close until May 4.

Chris Bishop is gung ho about the law. He said to Television New Zealand:

Bishop said he made “no apologies” for the changes.

“We are deliberately disrupting the system. The status quo is failing New Zealand.”

He said he has received emails and letters from people lobbying for projects, which would be made public under the Official Information Act if requested.

“People are excited about fast track, there’s people out there who want to use the law.”

But this is what happened when Radio New Zealand followed up on his suggestion that the OIA be used:

With days left for submissions on proposed Fast Track consenting legislation, the public is still in the dark about what projects might be picked.

RNZ’s Official Information Act requests to obtain answers have been rejected on the basis material will be released “proactively”. But the agency leading the process can not guarantee the proactive release will occur before public submissions close. The Ministry for the Environment said it was collating material from multiple agencies and “can’t yet say” when the information would be available to the public.

    Already we have an inkling about the sort of project that could be included. Trans Tasman Resources has recently abandoned an application for sand dredging off the Taranaki coast. And Stephenson Mining has not appealed a decision that prevented it from mining a mountain in Westport that is home to numerous threatened species including roroa great spotted kiwi, South Island fernbird, geckos, and 17 plant species.

    Apart from requiring Ministers to act in a manner that is consistent with treaty settlements there is no acknowledgement of the Treaty of Waitangi.

    And the type and location of activity that can be allowed is jaw dropping. Projects that would otherwise be prohibited under local district plans, like carving up the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges would be possible. And projects in World Heritage areas are possible, with the only extra requirement that the Minister of Conservation be consulted.

    The Ministerial powers are extraordinary. They have the ability to effectively rewrite a panel’s recommendation. The matters that they can consider are extremely wide.

    And the process will be truncated. Councils will only have 10 working days to respond to projects that may be extremely complex. There will be no public hearing and no ability for the public to have any say.

    The bill is attempting to address a perceived problem, that of the slowness in handling resource consent applications, by not only speeding up the process but allowing open slather on the environment.

    The bill does allow fast tracking of projects that will support climate change mitigation, including the reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions. But it completely undoes the benefits of this by allowing the fast tracking of projects that will will support development of natural resources, including coal and petroleum. And climate change mitigation is not included as a purpose of the Act.

    Perhaps most disturbingly the potential for corruption is high. Inclusion in the first part of schedule 2 would be a bonanza for any company and would allow them to sidestep the sort of oversight and review that the environement needs for its protection. The stakes and the potential benefits are high. And there will be limited redress or judicial oversight.

    The Environmental Defence Society has been scathing in its response to the bill. From its website:

    “Our detailed analysis concludes that there is no need for the Bill and that it should not proceed to enactment,” said EDS Chief Executive, Gary Taylor.

    “What is clear from the Bill is that it’s a fake premise, purporting to speed up decision-making when its real purpose is to enable environmental harm with impunity.

    “Ministers will have unprecedented powers to approve pet projects. The public will be precluded from having any say. Development is given absolute priority in an astonishingly unbalanced set of decision-making criteria.

    “Moreover, the process for giving selected projects a preferential consenting pathway via Schedules to the Bill is arguably unconstitutional, involving a process with no select committee or public scrutiny allowed. Coal, gold and offshore mining interests are very excited.

    “It is not an exaggeration to say that the legislation lacks legitimacy and is truly an exercise of unbridled power by Ministers.

    “Existing fast-track provisions already enable very speedy decision-making on major projects without gutting all environmental protections. That process has seen an average timeframe of just 97 days for referred projects and 88 days for listed projects. There is no need to replace that law.

    Submissions close this Friday. Please make your voices heard and not only submit but also ask for the ability to meet with the Select Committee to present your submission. The Parliament link for lodging a submission is here and EDS has this helpful template submission that allows you to generate a submission.

    27 comments on “Towards Banana Republic Status ”

    1. Res Publica 1

      So, for those of us playing along at home, the three parties that vowed to remain laser focused on the issues that matter most to people have:

      1. Told communities they can't decide how they're represented.
      2. Made it much harder for councils to set appropriate speed limits in their own communities. On infrastructure they've paid for and maintained.
      3. Cancelled a whole bunch of public transport and cycling projects local communities want in favour of MOAR ROADS.
      4. Left local government (and ratepayers) carrying the can for their collective meltdown over 3 waters.
      5. Got distracted by a whole bunch of weird culture war issues.

      And now they want to reserve themselves the right to decide over the top of whatever local planning processes are in place and approve their pet projects, or those of their donors.

      Yup. Local democracy saved guys. Cost of living crisis solved.

      • tc 1.1

        Culture wars were part of their strategy to regain power.

        Id like to see the opposition go hard here and suggest that they will pass laws allowing former ministers to face the consequences of their actions.

        • Res Publica 1.1.1

          I'd like to see all of the mayors and councilors who were foaming at the mouth about 3 waters and Labour's "authoritarianism" put exactly the same amount of time and energy (and ratepayer money) into defending local democracy from National.

          • tc

            They'll never bite that hand even though its just slapped them in the face hard.

            Now they get to raise rates for something they lobbied hard for and explain to ratepayers why. Luddites.

    2. Reality 2

      There is a daily cringe and shock horror reaction to what this government is doing. Never thought it would be this bad.

      As for Seymour calling Jacinda "authoritarian"! Says he who is telling parents to send their sick children to school, and all the other "authoritarian" edicts about how people should lead their lives. Seymour does not behave like a normal human. And as for Luxon’s weird tik toks. Creepy.

      • Mike the Lefty 2.1

        It wasn't Jacinda who came up with the idea of banning cellphones from classrooms either.

        What also amazes me is the low key response from teachers and teachers unions. If it had been a Labour government all hell would have been let loose.

        But when its National in power they just sit back and take it, or at worst they give mild, almost apologetic criticism.

        It used to be that the teachers were the one group that National couldn't strong-arm into submission. But the political right have obviously been successful behind the scenes over the last few years and now the teachers have been tamed.

        • I Feel Love 2.1.1

          I dunno about that, my kids school are being pretty half assed about it, they still have their phones & there are a heaps of exceptions. I imagine each school is dealing with it in their own way.

          • mpledger

            Yea, I think that's right. People will grouse to Labour because they know Labour will listen, people won't grouse to National because they know they won't listen and so just do their own thing anyway. It just means that National/Act will have to get more and more authoritarian to make people do what they want.

            The thing is if something like COVID-19 happens again they'll have no good will in the bank to get people to make good choices for the benefit of the country over themselves.

        • Vivie 2.1.2

          Why did teachers not strike under the National-led Government from 2008 to 2017? During that time teachers received minimal pay increases. In the 2009 budget National cut funding to all levels of education and training, from preschool up to and including community education and also apprenticeships, cut funding for disability education and for learning assistants. The Labour Government improved teachers' pay and conditions considerably. What are the motivations of the teachers unions and what are their political affiliations? It will be interesting to see if teachers take strike action under the current Government.

          "Ministry of Education is proposing to cut 565 jobs, including nearly 100 regional and frontline roles directly supporting schools. RNZ understands 225 roles of the jobs are vacant.

          It makes the proposal the biggest single slash to a public service agency so far……The Public Service Association (PSA) said it was a brutal and dark day for public servants and the children and young people they supported.

          Assistant secretary Fleur Fitzsimons said the proposal included scrapping 87 jobs in the regions.

          "People doing work including supporting children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, advising schools on accessing speech and language therapy, lifting student achievement and helping ensure schools run smoothly."

          There was also a net reduction of 38 roles supporting students with disabilities and learning support needs.

          Fitzsimons said the government promised job cuts would not impact frontline services but "these proposals show that is not true".

          The curriculum centre, which provided expertise and resources to teachers on the curriculum, would see 202 staff cut from its team, she said……".

          • In Vino

            Quick reply: PPTA were, as I remember, all set up to do a big strike when the Christchurch Earthquake hit. They rapidly realised that the idea had to be dropped.

            Sometimes things fall apart for unions, you know. Not the fault of PPTA: it explains why PPTA had to quietly settle that year.

            Sarcastically, I could claim that National were damned lucky that the Chch Earthquake happened..

            • Vivie

              In Vino: Following the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011, the teachers' unions had well over six years to take strike action against the National led Government.

    3. adam 3

      This bill if passed into law, will see an explosion of righteous protest.

      That protest will be led by those who understand we live in a intergenerational world. That the greed of a few in the current generation need to be curbed for future generations.

      Were are the good old fashioned conservatives?

      Why do we have a government hell bent of enabling the avarice of a few?

      Morally bankrupt government, at best. Doing the work of Mammon is an equally plausible explanation of this government at this point.

      • tc 3.1

        This is an ideological CoC full of neoliberal acolytes driven by the dollar.

        A well funded one with backers expecting to be rewarded.

    4. Sanctuary 4

      There are two other aspects of this that deeply disturb me. One is the obvious openness of the process to corrupt practices – something that our lax donations laws almost guarantee will occur – especially with Shane Jones and NZ First, a couple of names that don't spring immediately to mind when contemplating the uncorrupt in NZ.

      Secondly is the one of sovereign risk. No parliament is bound by the prior. If something is rammed through under a secretive and corrupt practice then whoever gets the consent had better be aware that a change of government will almost certainly see their work reversed tout suite, at considerable potential financial cost. No matter how much Jones talks wildly of blackmailing voters by promising puntive payments should any future government renege – an outrageous suggestion in itself – business will accord NZ a much higher sovereign risk.If implemented this law would lead to osicillating law making of the type that would normally befit the politics of corrupt banana republics. Should significant protest also threaten these fast tracked "consents" I'd expect Jones (a man who appears drunk with power) to come back with draconian anti-protest laws. The scene is being set for some very bitter public disorder.

      • Res Publica 4.1

        You're spot on the money about the constitutional consequences Sanctuary.

        I just hope all of Shane Jones' and David Seymour's mates price the risk of their blatantly corrupt or environmentally damaging projects being cancelled by a less retrograde government into their plans.

        And that said future government will have the cojones to risk some political capital, cancel their consents, and tell them to go have a cry to someone who cares when they start pissing and moaning about the impact on their bottom line.

      • Tiger Mountain 4.2

        How about a Hundertwasser green NZ “MAGA” hat…“Make Aotearoa NZ Great Again”…with MAGA in tiny font…there are dangers in copying such filth I guess but it could also make a statement in some settings.

        • Mike the Lefty 4.2.1

          The kind of people who would wear such a hat would probably not call our country Aotearoa.

      • Obtrectator 4.3

        "No parliament is bound by the prior."

        Is this true, though? What happens when we want to exit some onerous international treaty or contract which the previous administration has committed us to?

        • Res Publica 4.3.1

          Then Parliament can simply choose to exit it. Doesn't mean there won't be any consequences; only that there wouldn't be any legal impediment.

          Basically, Parliament is sovereign. So, gets to decide what's legal and illegal. So, even if there's a law, for example, to keep us in some kind of contact, a future Parliament can simply amend or repeal.

    5. AB 5

      If enacted it would give Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown and Shane Jones extraordinary powers…

      We know the Bill is a dog because the people championing it would have apoplexy if those three names were changed to (say) Chloe Swarbrick, Rawiri Waititi and David Parker.

      Partisan authoritarianism and the abandonment of proper processes is all good if it’s the ‘right’ (Right) people doing it.

    6. Ad 6

      Sure makes me wonder what a Labour-Green government could make happen with the same ministerial powers.

      • dv 6.1

        Yes, and when the govt changes they will have the legislation make it happen — thanks to ????]]

        Can you just imagine the uproar.

      • Michael 6.2

        Just look what the last government did and didn't do.

    7. Mike the Lefty 7

      It is appropriate that you show a picture of Mr Pork Barrel Shane Jones.

      Give the man a big slush fund – ahem…."a regional development fund" and his mates will be feasting and drinking up large for the next three years with f..all jobs to show for it.

      He did it with Labour and is now doing it with National.

      The difference now is that he no longer cares to try and hide it.

    8. Michael 8

      Shane Jones – distinguished Labour Party alumnus.

    9. Bearded Git 9

      Tarras International Airport.

      Labour/Greens/TPM should make it plain that projects consented under the FTP may have their consents cancelled if the government changes.

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