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Marine Legislation Bill and Human Rights

Marine Legislation Bill and Human Rights

Chairperson of the Aotearoa Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) Edward Miller has expressed concerns about the process and human rights implications of the Marine Legislation Bill, which was amended yesterday [Tuesday] and now heads toward its third reading.

The Bill amends two other pieces of law, notably the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 which regulates offshore oil drilling. A subsequent supplementary order paper amends that legislation, allowing the Environment Minister to introduce regulations that designate exploratory oil drilling as a non-notified activity. This would mean that applications for exploratory oil drilling could be made and granted without notifying the public, granting the Minister sole discretion to assess the risk of significant environmental damage.

“The changes make it much more difficult to get information about exploratory oil drilling, giving mining companies a head-start in making their case about the purported economic benefits" said Miller. "They are being touted as necessary to reduce costs for applicants and render them proportionate to the scale of environmental risk. Yet exploratory drilling is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous parts of the commercial drilling process as risks are unclear until explored.

“This assessment gets the balance between interests wrong and is an inappropriate basis for jettisoning public interest and democratic engagement. It ignores the massively disproportionate resource advantage and political clout oil companies enjoy over environmental and public health groups; indeed, this law will act as a foghorn for that advantage.”

Miller also raised concerns around the legislative process used. “The government has allowed only one practical opportunity for consultation on the change, in a Discussion Document with a submission period that runs until 5pm today, 25 September 2013. In the meantime the government has amended the legislation without waiting for the results of that consultation.

“The right to participate in public affairs is a fundamental human right that ought not be traded for unproven economic gains. The proposed legislation flies in the face of New Zealand’s international obligations, and undermines the concept of sustainable development, which requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders to ensure that development is in the best interests of all parties concerned.

“Exploratory offshore oil drilling is an extremely contentious practice with serious implications for the surrounding environment and human health. Earlier this year the government used a supplementary order paper to remove the right to protest at sea. Documents later released show that these changes were the result of a shady deal between oil company Shell and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce. Will we find the same commercial interference into the political process has motivated these changes?”

HRLA has made a submission on the Discussion Document, recommending that the Minister refrain from regulating to make exploratory oil drilling non-notified until a full and open human rights assessment has been undertaken.


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