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Dr. Cullen's call-in 'Think Big II'?

9 August 2004 - Wellington
FOREST AND BIRD MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

Dr. Cullen's call-in 'Think Big II'?

On the eve of a Cabinet meeting on the RMA, Michael Cullen's call for a more streamlined process that would favour major projects smacks of a return to 'Think Big'.

"Creating 'customised' options to make it easier for major projects will lead to poor decisions just like it did with Muldoon's National Development Act and 'Think Big'," said Forest and Bird's Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell.

"I'm sure his colleague Pete Hodgson could explain this to him. Mr Hodgson recently described the Clyde Dam process as idiotic, and we agree," he said.

In a speech to the Rotary Club of Wellington today, Dr Cullen said:

At present, the Act provides a 'call-in' process, whereby applications that are too large and too complex to be addressed by local authorities are managed centrally. The problem is that this provision is too blunt an instrument, and does not necessarily lead to a significantly streamlined process. What we need is a larger menu of options so that we can to some extent customise a resource consent process that fits the particular characteristics of a major project.

In Parliament's question time last week Marian Hobbs revealed that the Government is considering 'whole of Government' statements on major projects.

"Whole of Government statements are dangerous because they invariably involve the Government making value/political judgements on a variety of issues related to a proposal without the benefit of external, community input," Mr Hackwell said.

"This ties the Government's hands at an early stage of the proposal and makes it difficult for the Government to change its position in the face of new information that comes out of the RMA process," he said.

"As a member of the Coalition for Open Government in the early 1980's I well recall getting nowhere with the Muldoon Government as they pushed through the Think Big projects. More and more problems would emerge and it became obvious that the initial Government support for the projects had been based on unrealistic expectations of the benefits and gross underestimates of the likely impacts," he said.

"Mr Cullen's speech provides no evidence of why changes to the RMA are needed, but he certainly provides plenty of evidence of why changes are unnecessary," he said.

"His examples of how well the economy is performing include:

* The claim that the New Zealand economy is 'on steroids'

* Economic growth at a greater rate than the OECD average

* Significant growth in living standards since 1999

* Statement that the RMA is a 'very sound' basis for resource planning

* The RMA is low cost and easy to negotiate by OECD standards"

"These are all good reasons why the RMA doesn't need amending. New Zealand certainly doesn't need fast track processes for major projects. That will lead to acts of fiscal stupidity and environmental vandalism," Mr Hackwell said.

"What is needed are practical solutions to poor performance and leadership at both the local and national level. It is good to see that Michael Cullen has identified some of these because the Government will need to front up with the money," he said.

NOTES:

Quote from speech by Pete Hodgson to the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand in Christchurch last week:

The central planning era in electricity began to crumble when some idiot decided to put a high dam on a fault line that runs under the Clutha River at Clyde, and then had to spend millions grouting the river bed, millions more on putting a new road in a place where the road didn't want to go, and millions still on tunneling the hillsides so that the resultant lake didn't lubricate escarpments, causing those escarpments to topple into the lake that had just been filled and overtop the dam that had just been built. Two low dams would have done the trick.

That idiot was the political process in general and the Government of the day in particular.

Marian Hobbs in Parliament, Wednesday 4 August:

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that Local Government New Zealand's proposal for a whole-of-Government statement of the national interest is a thinly disguised attempt to silence the Department of Conservation if it attempts, as required under its Act, to advocate for biodiversity values that would be destroyed by a major project, and will she give an undertaking to this House that the Department of Conservation's ability to argue publicly for the national interests of biodiversity will not be compromised?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The Department of Conservation's ability will not be compromised, but I have heard around this House for years that transport, housing, planning, and energy should be coordinated to give a whole-of-Government response. Having said that, the Department of Conservation's ability to speak up for biodiversity in this land will not be compromised.

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