12 Apr 2024

Fast-track approvals: Minister's letter states some 'were invited to' apply

6:33 pm on 12 April 2024
National MP Chris Bishop

Infrastructure Minister Chris Bishop has previously said claims that organisations or companies were invited to apply were "misleading". Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A generic letter from the infrastructure minister, interpreted by two mining companies as an invite to apply for fast-track approval, shows some organisations have indeed been invited - but just which ones remains a mystery.

Two mining companies, Trans Tasman Resources and Chatham Rock Phosphate, published statements saying they had received an "invite" from the minister to apply - Chatham Rock Phosphate went so far as to call it a "request".

Infrastructure Minister Chris Bishop responded at the time, calling these claims "misleading".

He said the letter contained information on how to apply, and was sent to about 200 organisations which had expressed interest in the bill to his office.

The letter, released by the minister's office just before 5pm on Friday, read: "I'm getting in touch as I understand that you were invited to, or had a high level of interest in, nominating projects for inclusion."

And further down: "You can nominate a project for listing by submitting it to the Advisory Group for consideration via the Ministry for the Environment."

While it was not an invite in itself, the letter showed some parties had been invited to apply.

Opponents of the bill have argued the public has a right to know which ones.

Bishop said in a statement: "In early April I sent generic letters to two groups explaining the process for submitting projects for possible inclusion in the Fast Track Approvals Bill Schedules.

"One letter went to iwi, post-settlement groups and Māori entities, and the other letter went to an assortment of organisations and individuals who had expressed interest in submitting projects to the fast track process, or who had previously been put forward by ministers or MPs for possible inclusion."

The Fast-Track Approvals Bill is currently before select committee, open for public submissions.

Once it is passed into law, environmental groups and law experts alike worry it will allow an unprecedented handover of power regarding decisions on infrastructure projects, like mines, roads and dams, to fall into the hands of only three ministers.

Some of the projects feared to make the list have already been denied consents in the courts.

On Thursday, mining company Chatham Rock Phosphate saw a bump in shares after it published its announcement.

The NZX halted trading on its shares until it posted a clarification: "We have been asked to make it clear that numerous other parties have received the same invitation by the government and that our invitation was not exclusive."

But its share price had already risen from $0.118 from 1pm on Wednesday, to $0.151 at 3pm on Thursday. On Friday afternoon, it remained boosted at $0.153.

Trans Tasman Resources indicated earlier in the week that it intended to apply for the list to get a seabed mining project off the coast of Taranaki, which had already lost a court case for consents, off the ground.

Multiple requests from RNZ for the list of companies which were sent this correspondence from the minister have been delayed by the Ministry for the Environment.

Bishop said in a statement: "As you know the government decided in early March to establish an expert advisory panel to consider which projects should be included [in the legislation]."

"To release the lists these letters went to would undermine the independence of the independent advisory group process. For this reason I do not intend to release the list of those I sent those letters to at this time."

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