2 May 2024

Fast Track Approvals Bill: None from first day of hearings support bill in current form

7:00 pm on 2 May 2024
NZ Parliament building. generic

Parliament's environment committee heard from seven groups on Thursday afternoon over the Fast Track Approvals Bill (file image). Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Complaints against the government's new Fast Track Approvals Bill have ranged from environmental risk to private property rights, as groups give their feedback to politicians.

Parliament's environment committee heard from seven groups on Thursday afternoon; Federated Farmers, the Law Society, the New Zealand Planning Institute, Greenpeace, Forest and Bird, Environment Canterbury, and the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee.

None supported the bill in its current form.

Federated Farmers board member Mark Hooper said his group supported the aim of legislation, but was concerned for its potential to impinge on the rights of property owners.

The bill would give sweeping powers to law makers to give the green light to infrastructure projects, without the current requirements for public feedback or assent.

Hooper told the committee where feedback was to be sought, the proposed timeframes were too short.

"We consider it important that anyone seeking rights to private land through the Public Works Act be required to first attempt to secure them through fair and equitable negotiation and compensation," he said, "rather than relying on ministerial powers.

Lepperton dairy farmer Mark Hooper said lockdown had come at a busy time.

Federated Farmers board member Mark Hooper Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

  • The problems with the Fast Track Approvals Bill
  • In its current form, the bill would give ministers the ability to refer projects to an expert panel, and then make the final decision, irrespective of what the panel advises.

    In its submission, Federated Farmers warned a lack of consultation could lead to a loss of social license for a project.

    The Law Society said the new the bill should require ministers to explain themselves if they went against the expert panel's advice.

    Alternatively, spokesperson Nick Whittington said giving final say to the independent panel would still allow the bill to meet its overall objective of fast-tracking projects.

    At the very least, there should be a requirement for the joint ministers to explain their position whenever they depart from the panel's recommendation, he told the committee.

    "That would of course also reduce the likelihood of judicial review."

    The New Zealand Planning Institute, which represents more than 3000 professional planners nationwide, was concerned about this too.

    Spokesperson Megan Couture said the lack of transparency, combined with a perceived risk of conflicts of interest and over-reach of power by the three decision-making ministers, heightened the risk a judge would be asked to review decisions made under the new legislation.

    "The most effective role for ministers is to set clear national priorities and a clear framework for decision-making," she said.

    Another concern was the lack of Te Tiriti o Waitangi clause.

    The Law Society's Vicki Morrison-Shaw said this was especially necessary, given the Ministry for the Environment's own analysis of the bill had found it "likely to have negative Treaty impacts for broader Māori rights and interests, that will likely outweigh the positives".

    She was also concerned the bill failed to account for unsettled iwi.

    Greenpeace slammed the legislation in its entirety, saying New Zealanders voted for a new government, not for their natural biodiversity to be replaced with mines and sewers.

    Spokesperson Amanda Larsson was critical of how the bill removed protection for the environment, as well as the public's right to be involved in decision-making.

    Climate campaigner Amanda Larsson.

    Greenpeace spokesperson Amanda Larsson Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

    "Expert evidence, public participation, scrutiny by the courts - these are the processes by which our society decides what development is and is not appropriate.

    "But if passed into law, the Fast-Track Approvals Bill would completely undermine these processes and it would open the door to development not in the name of the public good, but in the name of whoever lobbies hardest."

    She said nearly 15,000 people gave feedback via the Greenpeace website on the proposed legislation.

    Forest and Bird had received a similar response, with about 14,000 submissions made through its website.

    Chief executive Nicola Toki said the public expected nature to be protected by the Crown - and this was not being demonstrated by the bill.

    "Obviously the ministerial override must go," she said, but that would be "meaningless, unless environmental protections and public participation in existing legislation is retained".

    Nicola Toki headshot

    Forest and Bird chief executive Nicola Toki Photo: Supplied

    Anything less, and the government would face public protests, she said.

    Minister for RMA Reform Chris Bishop, one of the three decision-making ministers specified in the bill, said he would not be commenting on individual submissions, "as that is for the committee".

    "We're interested in constructive suggestions to improve and refine the Bill," he said.

    "Fast track is very important to make it easier to get things done in New Zealand and address our infrastructure deficit, fix our housing crisis, and reduce our emissions."

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