07, Jul, 2017

Access to Justice Denied Under New Criteria

Category: Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki

Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki spokesperson Augusta Macassey-Pickard says the organisation is disgusted to learn that the Government has quietly introduced new criteria for the Environmental Legal Assistance Fund that will restrict non profit groups from being able to access the fund, in favour of economic interests.

The changes, introduced last week, prescribe a new requirement to consider whether a grant would “contribute to impeding or delaying the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being in relation to important needs, including employment, housing and infrastructure”.  The new criteria apply to deliberations by the panel, who consider whether to grant assistance with expert witness and legal costs, to environmental and community groups.

“The fund was originally set up using some of the Rainbow Warrior settlement funding to enable the environmental aspects of developments to properly be tested for the public good. Now, if someone has an economic or social interest in activities that will damage the environment, communities and groups will not get legal aid to make their case,” says Macassey-Pickard. “For example, to protect their areas from exploitative industries such as gold mining, which may provide economic benefits for a small group while having a significant environmental effect.”

“The government is running roughshod over communities, the environment and democracy. Changing the rules to favour economic interests when our environment is crucial to our way of life is illogical, and shows that they are very out of touch with what most Kiwis want”. 

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Coromandel Watchdog was established 35 years ago to provide a voice for a community that was faced with interest from multinational gold mining companies. Members of the community, most with no background in environmental advocacy, banded together to learn how to participate in the planning and statutory processes that would enable them to lawfully stop a destructive industry from establishing on the Coromandel against the wishes of most of the community. The group is one of many groups that represent a community, and rely on the fund to enable them to participate in the processes today.

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