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Government power-grab gets first debate


Government power-grab gets first debate

RMA Minister Hon David Benson-Pope announced this afternoon that a major Government power grab should have its first reading in Parliament tonight.

“We have got Robert Muldoon’s National Development Act. We have compared the Government’s Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill against the National Development Act and there are powers here that even Muldoon didn’t have(1),” said Forest and Bird’s Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell.

“Like Muldoon’s National Development Act, this Bill will allow abuses of executive power. We call on all members of Parliament to reject these powers,” he said.

“Under this Bill, an ‘I am God’ clause will give Environment Ministers almost unlimited power to interfere in local government(2). Any council caught between a Minister for the Environment and its community, will find that its community will be the losers,” he said.

“On the face of it, the Minister for the Environment could write an edict to prevent a local authority from prosecuting polluters(3), including State Owned Enterprises” he said.

“Environment Ministers will also have the power to strip entire communities of their Environment Court appeal rights by deciding to make decisions on major infrastructure projects by a Government appointed board(4),” he said.

“The Government will also have the power to prevent local communities from setting stricter environmental standards than the Government(5),” he said.

“The Minister’s statement today doesn’t talk about these powers. Instead it makes bland comments about “practical solutions” he said.

“Like the National Development Act, this Bill appears clearly aimed at enabling the Government to foist infrastructure development onto unwilling communities. It will also place barriers to those communities that want stringent environmental standards,” he said.

“However Forest and Bird will be supporting proposals for accreditation of councillors, public interest waivers of court fees and appeal rights on notification. These are three of the few proposals in the Bill that will enhance local government performance, protect the environment and uphold public participation,” he said.

Notes:

1. The National Development Act did not give Muldoon the power to directly interfere with local authorities as clauses 6 and 7 of the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill do. These new powers include the powers to demand information from local authorities, instruct local authorities to take actions relating to their functions, put in place officials to take action in place of local authorities and require local authorities to change their resource management plans.

2. & 3. Clause 6 (‘I am God’ clause) gives the Minister for the Environment the power to “direct a local authority to take an action relating to any of its functions under this Act.” If the local authority does not act quickly enough, the Minister may “appoint 1 or more persons to take the action in place of the local authority.” This is so broad that it is conceivable that the action requested could be to require a local authority to not prosecute a State Owned Enterprise.

4. Clause 54 (new section 139B(3)) gives private businesses, state-owned enterprises and government departments the right to ask the Minister for the Environment to “call-in” an application for resource consent, plan change or designation. Clause 57 (new section 149A) strips submitters of Environment Court appeal rights for decisions on major projects that are “called-in.”

5. Clause 21 prevents local authorities from setting stricter standards than the Government unless the Government expressly gives permission. Even if the Government gives local authorities permission to set higher standards, clause 10 creates barriers for those local authorities that wish to.

Other key clauses in the Bill:

Clause 7 gives the Minister for the Environment the power to force local authorities to change their resource management plans.

Clause 9 creates a new function for regional councils to promote “the timely and effective provision of infrastructure”

Clause 20 allows the Government to declare activities permitted, overriding stricter standards set by local government

Text from Minister’s media release:

A package of improvements to key problem areas identified in the working of the Resource Management Act (RMA) is expected to pass its first reading in Parliament today, says Associate Environment Minister David Benson-Pope.

Mr Benson-Pope says the new Bill, known as the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill, sets out a series of practical solutions identified after talking with business, local government, environmental organisations and the broader community over the past year-and-a-half.

"The RMA is not fatally flawed," said Mr Benson-Pope. "It remains an important environmental safeguard. But we've got a number of timely, sensible and well thought out solutions to make it work better for all New Zealanders.


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