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No Community Safe Under Government’s Proposed Fast-Track Consenting Bill

The Government is proposing a fast-track consenting Bill that would enable Ministers to unilaterally approve new development and commercial projects anywhere in the country with little to no oversight.

This should concern all New Zealanders as no community will be safe from potentially life-changing developments suddenly happening in their neighbourhood say environmental groups.

The Minister responsible for RMA Reform, Hon Chris Bishop, has said that only people directly affected by a project will be able to have their say. This means the general public, including those with expertise on environmental matters, would be prevented from providing input or opposing developments.

“While the public voted for a change of Government, they did not vote for more pollution in rivers, mines on conservation land, and being excluded from having a say on protecting the places they care about,” said Dr Russel Norman, Executive Director of Greenpeace Aotearoa.

“The new Government has launched war on nature and this Bill is part of it,” said Norman.

“It’s a blow to democracy that community voices won’t be heard in consenting processes, even when the development in question could have impacts far beyond individuals directly affected,” said Gary Taylor, Chief Executive of the Environmental Defence Society.

Furthermore, the Minister gave environmental groups only two weeks to respond to a general outline of what the proposed Bill would contain, with that period ending today. Cabinet is expected to make in-principle decisions on the Bill very soon after.

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This is a completely inadequate process and timeframe given the major constitutional and environmental issues the Bill raises, the groups said.

The proposed fast track Bill is being touted as the solution to lengthy consent processes, but a letter sent by the Minister in January suggests that the Government is looking to go much further. The Bill has the potential to bypass environmental protections, not just under the Resource Management Act, but also potentially under conservation laws.

This means Minsters having sweeping powers to approve mines, aquaculture, hydro schemes, irrigation schemes, pretty much anything, with the sweep of a hand.

“The Ministerial decision-making proposed is a gross misuse of power,” Taylor said.

“Decisions on major projects should be made by independent panels, based on evidence gathered from all interested parties and experts, not by individual Ministers. The potential for conflicts of interest and personal bias is concerning.”

Nicola Toki, Chief Executive of Forest & Bird said, “New Zealanders care deeply about their environment and want it to be looked after. This legislation would be a major step backwards. Our environment is already facing massive risks from climate change and biodiversity loss – we need to restore and protect what we have left, not open up more precious places, including public conservation land, to development including mining.”

WWF-New Zealand Chief Executive Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb said, "New Zealand has traditionally been one of the least corrupt countries in the world, but this ill-conceived legislation will pave the way for Ministers to approve pet-projects without proper scrutiny and give private developers the green-light to wreak havoc on our environment. It's deeply concerning for our democracy and the environment on which we all depend.

"Our rivers and lakes are dying, and our treasured native species are on the brink of extinction. Slashing the environmental checks and balances we have in place is just another nail in the coffin for our wildlife."

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