7 Mar 2024

Government 'looking at' mining on DOC lands - Chris Bishop

7:12 pm on 7 March 2024
Coal Worker With Handful Of Coal (Photo by Monty Rakusen / Cultura Creative / Cultura Creative via AFP)

The government is not ruling out new coal mines. (File photo.) Photo: Cultura/Monty Rakusen

The Infrastructure Minister is not ruling out new mines being approved on Department of Conservation estates under the government's new fast-track consenting regime.

The Fast Track Approvals Bill allows the Ministers of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Developments to choose projects for speedy approvals.

Environmentalists have called the new fast-track process an "unprecedented assault on nature and democracy" and say it risks New Zealand being seen as a "banana republic".

Chris Bishop told Checkpoint he could not guarantee a ban on new mining projects on DOC land or new coal mining elsewhere.

"Actually, one of the things that ministers will be looking at is the significance of a project regionally or nationally - and mining is included in the sectors we'll be looking at, alongside infrastructure, renewable energy, aquaculture projects, more housing growth and a whole range of other things."

Asked whether the new fast-track consenting process would give ministers too much power, he said it was "a deliberate decision" by the new government.

"The red tape and green tape in this country [have] held us back for too long. It costs too much to get resource consents for major projects, and we are cutting those costs and reducing the time so we can get on with decarbonising the economy and also building the infrastructure we need for the future."

When pressed by Lisa Owen on whether this would give the ministers "absolute power", he said that was "overreach" and it was simply giving ministers the power to refer projects to an expert panel, who would apply the relevant conditions and permits.

The criteria for regional or national significance would depend on the sector, but one example might be major roading projects, he said.

"There will be a range of things that ministers take into consideration - and some ... will be mandatory, for example the impact on existing Treaty settlements and ... they will [also] have to take into account the economic benefits of projects ... both when they refer a project and when they come back from an expert panel."

The panels were a necessary step because they had the industry or expert knowledge specific to the resource consents - although Bishop acknowledged that ministers would still have the "backstop power" of veto.

"One of the pieces of feedback that we get from people involved with infrastructure... is that sometimes conditions imposed by panels are too onerous and don't strike the right balance between economic development and protecting the environment."

Bishop said it was possible to both protect the environment and facilitate economic growth under the new fast-track regime.

"If you think about renewable power... those projects have an impact on the environment... but it's necessary that we supercharge the amount of electrification in the economy to get our transmissions down.

"I just don't accept the binary tradeoff between [environment and economy] - actually, it's possible to do both.

"The bad thing about the [current] New Zealand planning and environmental consenting regime is that it does both badly - it [neither protects] the environment [nor] facilitates economic growth and development."

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