On The Government’s Fast Track To Trashing The Environment

Published: Fri 8 Mar 2024 11:27 AM
With Shane Jones as the watchdog, who needs predators? Mining on DOC land now seems to be a fait accompli. Plainly, New Zealand‘s conservation estate is now open for business, regardless of the impact on the environment and on the endangered species for whom DOC land used to provide a final refuge. Regional Development, Oceans, Fisheries and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones will be one of the three Ministers who will be given the unbridled power to decide which development projects get the go-ahead, regardless of their environmental impact.
Jones has never hidden his contempt for environmental concerns. In 2012, he rushed to the public defence of his mates in Sealords after Greenpeace issued a parody of one of the company’s commercials. In December 2023, Jones mocked what he called climate change “hysteria,” the plight of endangered species and other conservation concerns. In the same December speech, Jones promised:
"We are going to extract the dividend from Mother Nature's legacy on the DoC estate and those areas previously known as Stewardship land.There'll be a fast track for mining, fast track for energy, that's the thing coming in your direction..."
For Jones, democratic accountability began and ended on Election Day. Business is to be given open slather every other day of the year, over the term of this government. Oh, there will be an expert environmental panel tacked onto the new fast track legislation, but it will have no power to implement its findings, or to decline any project put before it. The consent process for any business enterprises with environmental repercussions will henceforth be a one way street, with Jones and corporate interests at the wheel. So much for what local communities think. Their concerns too, will be reduced to token inputs.
Nicola Toki, Forest and Bird’s CEO, is right to feel alarmed. As Toki says, this legislation overrides the Conservation Act, all existing environmental laws and all fisheries regulations, should the three Ministers driving this process so decide. This, she adds, goes well beyond any other “fast track” consent process we’ve ever seen before in this country. Once again, the Luxon government is taking us back 50 years to the “rip, shit and bust” era of environmental degradation, provided there are a few bucks to be made on the side during the process.No emergency, no housing
The government’s self-described “bold” and “innovative” plan to reduce the use of motels for emergency housing looks more like a dog chasing its tail. Until the government gets around to building more social housing (and we won’t know until the May Budget whether they will) Housing Minister Chris Bishop is mainly just tinkering with the definitions for housing’s waiting list.
In future, and after they‘ve been living in motels for three months, Bishop is promising that families with children will be pushed closer to the front of the long queue for social housing. Newsflash: there already is a priority waitlist for social housing, and families with children are already a prioritising factor. Seemingly, the government’s category shuffling will mainly affect the relatively few families living in emergency housing who (somehow) haven’t yet been assessed and placed on the wait-list.
Cruelly, and at the exact same time, the government will also make it harder to get onto the emergency housing wait-list in the first place. The qualifying criteria will be tightened. The net result? Tightening the eligibility criteria for housing assistance – while merely shuffling the positions further up the queue – is a recipe for further overcrowding, and for more people (and their kids) once again sleeping in cars and garages.
But wait. Under a “social bond” system, landlords could also conceivably be paid – a $50 million slush fund for this purpose was mooted by National last year on the campaign trail - to place and retain emergency housing clients in private rentals. Such a move, as one Manawatu tenants union co-ordinator told RNZ, would be ”bizarre” given that, as he says, many families are in emergency housing because they’ve already been evicted by private landlords.
Still, the Property Investors Federation is reportedly keen on the social bond subsidy. Of course it is. Who wouldn’t want to be supplied with tenants who (literally) have nowhere else to go, and be subsidised by the state for each one, on top of the weekly rent? Plus, if any problems arise (or if a better offer comes along) landlords will also be empowered to get rid of these families at will, via the re-introduction of 90 day “no fault” evictions.
For landlords, it looks like a fail-safe income system. Yet if this “social bond” scheme doesn’t go hand in hand with safe and warm housing standards – and it probably won’t - it will be a taxpayer subsidy to help New Zealand landlords offload their worst properties onto a captive, dependent clientele. Bishop has come up with an incentive scheme for not improving housing quality.
Incidentally… In general, this government is very, very keen on the targeting of any state assistance. We’re seeing this with the ACT proposal to restrict the provision of school lunches, which will drive down demand by publicly stigmatising the needy children who depend on them. (Kids will go hungry rather than be shamed in front of their peers.)
Yet in this housing area ...Only 3,000 families currently live in emergency housing. The government could easily restrict the power to exercise “no fault” evictions to those relatively few landlords that provide social bond services to those families.
Instead, the government is giving landlords the power to exercise “no fault” evictions over the entire rental market that nearly half of the New Zealand population depend on for a place to live. The social bond scheme really is just a fig-leaf to justify reducing the tenancy security of everyone in this country who rents.
Universal benefits for landlords. Conditional assistance for the needy. There’s nothing bold or innovative about any of this. Basically, it is a throwback to the 19th century, when political power and property rights went hand in hand. The only thing that’s sure to be reduced is the $340 million that the government currently spends annually on emergency housing.Iron & Wine’s dream date
Sam Beam is about to release Light Verse, his first album of new Iron & Wine music in seven years. The initial single is this lovely duet with Fiona Apple:
And here, for old times sake, is a track about mothers and sons that featured on Iron & Wine’s great debut album The Creek Drank the Cradle, which was released (gulp) 22 years ago....

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