INDEPENDENT NEWS

Fast Track Is Outright Assault On Environment

Published: Thu 7 Mar 2024 12:17 PM
A new sweeping fast-track consenting bill being tabled in parliament today is anti-nature, anti-democracy, and will leave a mess for future governments to clean up, says Forest & Bird.
“New Zealand has environmental laws based on science for a reason – to protect the unique animals and stunning landscapes we all love, to safeguard our health and make our communities liveable,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Nicola Toki. “This law is flinging open a back door to let destructive industries and special interests bypass those laws.
“New Zealand already has the highest proportion of threatened species in the world, and this will put more on a fast track to extinction.”
The Fast Track Approvals Bill will override the Conservation Act, Reserves Act, and Wildlife Act, as well as the RMA and law governing the Exclusive Economic Zone. It would also allow Ministers to refer developments – ranging from aquaculture, dams and mining as well as roading and housing – to an expert panel which only has the ability to make recommendations to the Minister. Ministers have the power to greenlight projects and ignore the panel as they see fit.
“This is giving ministers unbridled personal power to singlehandedly approve or decline any damaging development they want. It’s anti-nature, anti-climate, and anti-democratic,” says Ms Toki. “It’s powers not seen since the days of Think Big by Muldoon’s government in the 1970s.”
The Government is proposing to introduce a list of projects into the legislation at the final stages of considering the bill, too late to be considered in the select committee process or receive proper public scrutiny.
"New Zealanders are being denied an effective say over what projects should be fast tracked. This feels like not only Parliamentary ambush but a means for developers to ambush the entire country.”
“Ministers are meeting special interests behind closed doors and adding their pet projects to a green light list. At the same time ministers are slamming the door on local communities, scientists, the wider New Zealand public and even their Parliamentary colleagues. It’s disgraceful and MPs need to hear loud and clear that this isn’t fair or democratic.
“This is typical of the lack of open consultation shown by this Government so far. We’re talking about an unknown number of developments, each with a complex array of environmental impacts, which groups – and courts – around the country have already put a great deal of effort into considering.
“In a climate and biodiversity crisis, environmental impacts need to be considered front and centre, and New Zealanders have a right to have a say about what goes on in their community.”
The initial list of fast-tracked developments looks likely to include open-cast coal mining on public conservation land, after a coal company unexpectedly abandoned their long-running court battle for a new mine last week. Pictures and video of the area are available here.
“Of course a coal company wants its consents fast tracked if they don’t want New Zealand’s environment and conservation laws to apply to them,” says Ms Toki. “But New Zealand’s laws should make it hard to approve mountain top removal of pristine reserve land for an opencast coal mine and companies need to think hard about the risks to their markets and investors if they go down the fast track route.
“Our laws should make it hard to deliberately drive native species to extinction, but it’s also likely the fast track legislation will allow a coal company to do just that; investors may not be so keen to be associated with causing extinction.
“This Government has essentially just declared war on nature. That has huge implications for not just our climate and environment, but also our economy. The rest of the world is watching. They are building economies ready for a low-carbon and biodiversity rich world – we are rushing headlong in the wrong direction. We risk losing access to international markets and trading partners. All New Zealanders need to stand up and fight these changes.”
Note:
Other developments Forest & Bird has previously opposed which seem likely to have asked to now be fast tracked include:
Seabed mining by Trans Tasman Resources, which would suck up 50 million tonnes of the seabed each year. In 2020 Forest & Bird won in the Supreme Court against the proposal, which was in an area home to 30 species of marine mammals, including some that are critically endangered such as blue whales (pictures available here) and Māui dolphins. The matter was referred by the Enivronmental Protection Agency, and Forest & Bird is due at a hearing next week.
Ruataniwha dam, which Forest & Bird won a Supreme Court case against in 2016. The proposal was to downgrade the specially protected status of conservation land (pictures and video available here), allowing flooding of the habitat of threatened species such as pekapeka long-tailed bats or kārearea New Zealand falcon.
Expanded mining on the public conservation land of the Denniston Plateau (photos available here). Last month a species of New Zealand’s spectacular carnivorous snails were moved to the Nationally Critical threat classification status because open-cast coal mining is planned for much of the remaining high-quality snail habitat.

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