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16, Dec, 2004

Labour Sacrifices Environment


Category: ECO Inc

The national environment coalition, ECO, today condemned most of the government’s changes to the Resource Management Act, which were expected to be debated in Parliament today, but said there are three positive changes.

“The environment, families and communities affected will be massively disadvantaged by most of the changes, said Cath Wallace, ECO spokesperson. “These amendments will give the Minister for the Environment unacceptably wide powers to push through projects and to over-ride local government. They will give local councils the power to ignore the views and concerns of local people who will have no right of redress.

“This Bill, the Resource Management and Electricity Legislation Amendment Bill, will make it much harder, complicated, cumbrous and more expensive for the community to participate at council hearings (Clause 18). Lawyers and expert witnesses will be able to be demanded at the council hearing. This will make it impossible for many people to participate and for those who do it will take more time and be more expensive.

“Councils will be allowed to ignore or curtail submissions or to refuse to hear them, to manipulate the order of material heard, with no right of appeal to those denied or against abuse of process.

The Bill provides for massively enhanced central government powers (Clauses 6 and 7), primarily designed to force local authorities into allowing power plants and lines, coal mines, prisons, and hydro dams to be forced on communities.

“Councils may be forced to change their Policies and Plans,” she said. “Local authorities may also be forced to share their powers with other public authorities ( Clause 15).”

“This Bill would make Muldoon proud. It provides a cascading tyranny all at the expense of the environment and community. The Bill provides that the Minister for the Environment can direct local authorities to promote development projects and to take certain actions.

“The Bill allows the Minister to appoint his or her own people and to insist that local councils have to do what they say – and there are few grounds or controls on this. Councils in turn can ignore people’s submissions, play around with the order of hearing, prevent people giving submissions, and engage in other such high – handed behaviour: and none of this can be subject to appeal.

“It may surprise people that environmental organisations may not trust the Minister and Associate Minister for the Environment, but this Bill is a good example why that may be the case. It is driven by the desire of some in the government to override environmental and community concerns for the sake of economic interests. Even if the environment ministers care about the environment, other, more powerful ministers can over-ride them.

“If the Minister for the Environment calls in a project then local authorities are sidelined and submitters are stripped of their rights to appeal to the Environment Court and can only resort at great expense to the High Court where they will only be able to appeal on narrow grounds.

“ECO calls on these and other provisions to be dropped from the Bill and for the government to back off these pernicious proposals,” said Cath Wallace.

“There are three things that we can welcome in this Bill: moves to train and provide accreditation for at least some of the decision-makers; the public interest waivers of Environment Court fees; and the right of appeal on Council failures to notify the public of applications. These should be retained and are welcome, said Cath Wallace.