12 Jul 2017

Special Economic Zones still on the table

8:29 pm on 12 July 2017

The government is still considering whether to introduce Special Economic Zones despite being advised not to do so.

Kevin Hague is leaving Parliament to head Forest and Bird.

Forest and Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said the public should be alarmed about the government's plans. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

Documents show former Economic Development Minister and current Finance Minister Steven Joyce last year asked the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to look into the zones.

These would enable the government to speed up investments and developments by by-passing existing rules.

The environmental group Forest and Bird fear laws would be circumvented to push through developments such as coal mines and salmon farms.

And its chief executive, Kevin Hague, said was outrageous the zones were still being considered after being told not to by officials.

Mr Hague said the public should be alarmed.

"The scope of law and regulation that the government is proposing to suspend to facilitate these developments is breathtaking."

Govt still weighing up zones

In March, the documents released to Forest and Bird under the Official Information Act show that MBIE officials told the now Economic Development Minister, Simon Bridges, that the zones could undermine the social license of already controversial projects, and advised him not to proceed.

But Mr Bridges said he was still weighing it up.

"The MBIE position has been that there's a lot around Special Economic Zones and the type of concept that we are already doing, and there are things there that we should continue to think about it.

"But also that ... it's a very complex area and in terms of social license areas and so on.

"The advice [is] it's not always necessarily got more benefits than it does cons."

National MP and leader of the House Simon Bridges.

Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Mr Bridges said were about much more than coal mines - and could enable other projects to get off the ground too.

"Other ones may be aquaculture, tourism - where a different regulatory way of doing things could make a difference - and other areas as well such as geothermal energy."

Mr Bridges said Local Government New Zealand in particular thought the zones could greatly help the regions.

"I am open to continuing that work, accepting though it's like anything - it has its good points but also its real complexities."

MBIE also advised the Minister that using Special Economic Zones to enable coal mining would risk compromising environmental safeguards.

Mr Bridges said coal was a very fraught issue.

"Government understands that, and that's because undoubtedly in areas such as the West Coast it's been a mainstay of their economy, it has provided very strong job numbers, and high paying jobs at that.

"But of course what is also true on the other side of that is that there is conservation values that we as New Zealanders hold very seriously, so I don't think that's a simple matter and I'm certainly not pretending that it is."

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