14 May 2024

Fast-track submissions: Hundreds will miss out on speaking at committee

5:47 am on 14 May 2024
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The Select Committee hearing submissions on the government's fast-track approvals legislation received about 27,000 written submissions. File photo. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The chair of the Select Committee hearing submissions on the government's fast-track approvals legislation has acknowledged people will be disappointed to miss out, after the committee opted to use a ballot system to select submitters.

Organisations and individuals have started appearing before the Environment Committee to speak in support or opposition to the bill, which aims to speed up approvals for infrastructure and development projects, with three Cabinet ministers getting final sign-off over projects.

The committee received approximately 27,000 written submissions in total. 2900 asked to appear in-person.

Chair and National MP David MacLeod said the committee expected to hear from 1100 submitters across a six-week period - 550 organisations, and 550 individual members of the public.

While every organisation that submitted will be heard, the committee ultimately decided to whittle down the number of individual submitters through a ballot.

MacLeod said after working out the number of days it could hear submissions on, the committee simply did not have enough time to get through everyone.

"There will be submitters that wanted to be here but won't be able to, and they will be disappointed, I'm sure," he said.

Companies and entities will be given 10 minutes in front of the committee, with individuals given five.

Some notable individuals, such as former MPs, were also taken out of the ballot.

MacLeod said the committee received several thousand form submissions - the same template with a different signature at the bottom - from various groups. Individuals who made a form submission will not get to speak, although organisers of the submission campaigns will.

Groups like Forest & Bird and the Environmental Defence Society sent their supporters templates, but also encouraged them to personalise their submissions to make them more effective.

The committee ultimately opted to prioritise hearing from individuals who made a unique submission.

"The select committee's job is to be informed from the submissions, both written and verbal, and endeavour to, I suppose, amend or change the bill that's before us, the draft bill, to make it as strong as we could possibly get it. That's the objective," MacLeod said.

"And clearly, a form submission, once you've read one, you've read the whole lot. It doesn't particularly add more value to that process."

'Sometimes it's not enough'

Green MP Lan Pham, who sits on the committee, said the Green Party opposed the ballot system as it wanted public eyes and public voice on the bill as much as possible.

"I know that the committee's view generally is that the organisations who have put together these form submissions are able to present in sort of capture what they were trying to achieve, in the views of those who use the forms. But, you know, sometimes it's not enough," she said.

"And I think the fact that this bill runs across so much other legislation, and impacts so much of what we understand, and sort of like, the legislative baseline of how Aotearoa works, we thought that it was really important that everyone got to have their say."

Labour MP Rachel Brooking, who is also a committee member, said the ballot meant a lot of people who put a lot of time into their submissions would not be heard.

"That's a real shame, because people care about nature, and they've got good things to say that we should be listening to. And, of course, one of the things that the bill does is stops public participation and processes where there normally would be public participation. So it's even more important that those people are heard," she said.

Brooking said the committee should be given longer, so everyone who wants to speak can do so.

"I think given the time constraints, [the ballot] probably is the fairest way. But would would be much better is if the report-back of the bill was extended, to enable more submitters to be able to be heard by the committee."

One of the three ministers set to be given final sign-off on projects, transport minister Simeon Brown, accepted there was a lot of public interest in the bill.

"That's why we go to select committee process, to hear what the concerns and the views of the community are. There's people who are submitting in favour, there's people who are submitting opposed, but what we're saying is very clear: we need to be a government which actually gets things done, and we need to make decisions a lot faster," he said.

The committee will split into two sub-committees and hold 22 meetings, in order to get through the submissions.

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