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Special Economic Zones Opposed

Special Economic Zones Opposed

ECO today challenged the Government to reveal any plans for special legislation and "special economic zones" to fast track environmentally and socially harmful projects. This call follows the release to Forest and Bird of MBIE and other official advice to Ministers* that such plans would put the environment and “social licence” at risk.

“The advice was from Ministry of Business, Industry and Employment, MBIE, and outlined the officials’ understanding in March 2017 of what Ministers wanted and gave advice,” said Cath Wallace, vice chair of ECO, the national organization of groups with a concern for the environment and conservation.

“The advice to Ministers was that rushed legislation would be hard to do quickly and would cause a furore where conservation and environmental values are over-ridden in favour of mining, aquaculture and other activities in sensitive environments. The advice shows that the officials thought that it might be sensible to drop the idea”, said Wallace.

“The officials were right. People who have worked for generations and decades for environmental protection to benefit the future will not stand for special purpose legislation to allow the destruction of conservation values on conservation land on the Buller Plateau or other areas of the West Coast. “

“Most New Zealanders will not think it is acceptable to fast-track aquaculture with its disease and landscape impacts in contravention of the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and the King Salmon Environment Court ruling. Yet the papers suggest that is what Ministers want for sensitive South Island marine and coastal conservation areas. These would include around national parks and other sensitive places such as Rakiura – Stewart Island, Southland and Fiordland National Park and their surrounding coasts and seas.”

“The papers show that there is a clear understanding by Ministers that such special economic zones and special legislation would bypass the Resource Management Act and other legislation that would otherwise give consideration of the environment and social issues when mining and other economic projects are promoted.” “Officials point out the proposals would violate the Purpose and Principles of the Resource Management Act.”

“Even though Ministers have already severely reduced the consideration of environmental and social concerns with their amendments in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill earlier this year, they still seem to want to bypass due process even more. The changes to the Resource Management Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Conservation Act and the Reserves Act in the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill that the Cabinet pushed through Parliament, already tilt decisions in favour of economic activity and against social and environmental concerns” said Wallace.

“It is no surprise, but it is very disappointing that the many in local government, especially on the West Coast, seem to support this bulldozing – literally and figuratively – of projects on public and private land.

They know that these projects would not be allowed under the Resource Management Act if proper process was to be followed,” says Cath Wallace.

“Special Economic Zones, and special legislation would allow conservation values and our precious natural capital to be sacrificed for short term economic benefit. The proposals speak about mining on the Buller Plateau, noted for its conservation importance, aquaculture in sensitive coastal environments around Fiordland, Rakiura- Stewart Island national parks and would override the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and Environment Court rulings on that.

“Unions should also be concerned. Special Economic Zones in other parts of the world have also led to serious labour rights violations and to harm to workers and their communities from pollution.

“The papers also show that Ministers want to fast-track foreign interests accessing these special economic zones, since they refer to the Overseas Investment Commission requirements being relaxed, and to other regulatory concessions.”

“The more special favours and special legislation are cooked up for the mining and other industries, the more there will be direct action and other conflict on the ground. As well as it being totally unfair to secretly develop these special mechanisms without consulting other interests, it is clumsy, makes for great uncertainty of investment and invites international criticism.

“The idea of fast-track routes for environmentally and socially harmful activities belongs back in the 1960s and 1970s and should stay there. Special economic zones are clearly being considered as a way of bypassing proper consideration of environmental harm and the damage to conservation values.

“This proposed further assault on environmental and social concerns and on conservation values will be vehemently opposed, said Cath Wallace, for ECO.

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