|Here we are in 2024 and a month gone already! It’ll be a big year for EDS, with law and policy changes coming thick and fast.
|We’ll see a new fast-track Bill by 7 March; a Resource Management Amendment Bill which will include changes to freshwater consenting; then the proposed replacement of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management; amendments to the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity to stop implementation of Significant Natural Areas; and an undefined regulation bonfire.
|EDS will work co-operatively with the Government on these changes where that’s possible, but we’ll stand our ground where needed to protect indigenous biodiversity, outstanding landscapes, and freshwater health. We will not sit back and watch the roll-back of environmental protections and degradation of our natural world.
Fast-Track Bill: Goodbye Freddy
|Hon Chris Bishop, Minister for RMA Reform, has announced the Government’s intention to introduce a new fast track Bill to enable faster and cheaper consenting of infrastructure and development.
|It will give Ministers unprecedented powers to approve consents required under the RMA, as well as under a range of other Acts, including potentially the Conservation Act. Environmental protections may be severely limited, and the public excluded from having a say unless directly affected by the proposal.
|EDS questions the constitutional validity of this form of Executive decision-making. It’s one thing for Ministers to act as a gateway and refer proposals on for decision to an independent panel, and another for Ministers to make decisions themselves. It is undemocratic.
|The Bill will also list some initial developments for immediate statutory approval and that could include mines and aquaculture projects – which will be very controversial.
|It should be of huge concern to every New Zealander. Nowhere is safe from harmful activities. Even public conservation land is at risk of exploitation. As Hon Shane Jones, Minister of Regional Development, recently said:
|“In those areas called the Department of Conservation (DOC) estate … if there is a mineral, if there is a mining opportunity and it's impeded by a blind frog, goodbye, Freddy. We are going to extract the dividend from mother Nature's legacy on the DOC estate…”.
|More streamlined decision-making is a good thing, but there are already fast track processes available under the RMA. Those provisions could be refined further, while maintaining appropriate environmental protections. This new Bill looks like unnecessary overreach. Once it is introduced EDS will release an early draft submission to help others interested in submitting.
What Hon Shane Jones used to think
|Ironically, Hon Chris Bishop is developing the new fast track Bill in conjunction with Hon Shane Jones, who told the House in 2006:
|“I get the sense that Nick Smith and others are harking back to the National Development Act. They actually would prefer the Resource Management Act to be put to the side, and for developments to be approved from a national agency with minimal or no opportunity for public or community participation. That would lead to a simple reversion back to the days of Muldoon. The Resource Management Act is an evolving piece of legislation, and as one of the four members of the core group who worked with Sir Geoffrey Palmer in 1989-90, actually developing the Resource Management Act, which was then taken forward by Simon Upton, I say that it has to be amended as it goes.
|But there should be balance and opportunity for participation. Most important, communities should not be dislocated or locked out from an opportunity to influence the final shape and form of their community when a life-changing development comes to town. ... That is why I cannot support this bill, because it is disempowering and leaves far too much influence and potential for marginalisation on the basis of the depth of the pocket and the cheque-book flourishing of developers. ..."
Upton on Reform and RMA 2.0
|Just before Christmas the Government repealed the newly minted Natural and Built Environment and Spatial Planning Acts, returning to the RMA, and foreshadowing plans to eventually replace it with laws based on protecting private property rights. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Rt Hon Simon Upton, has called for an enduring longer-term replacement of the RMA, not more “flip-flopping.” EDS supports his call for bi- or multi-partisan engagement in devising new law. This could sensibly draw on the best parts of the Resource Management, Natural and Built Environment and Spatial Planning Acts, rather than starting from scratch and creating further disruption. We have yet to see what process Hon Chris Bishop envisages for reforming the RMA, but the hope is he will enable wide engagement that is free from distorting ideological drivers.
The Future is Now: Biodiversity, Climate and Us, Ōtautahi Christchurch, 10-12 June 2024
|Registrations are now open for EDS’s annual environmental summit. The programme will include workshops on proposed changes to freshwater and biodiversity management and examine the fast track Bill, potential progress with marine protection; tracking towards net zero and how we should address our climate change and biodiversity crises in a joined-up way. We are inviting key Ministers to speak with informed responders. It should be a blast – and a real opportunity to test the Government’s new policies and share ideas, so please join us!
Hauraki Gulf / Tikapa Moana Marine Protection Bill
|In good news, the Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana Marine Protection Bill is currently progressing through the Select Committee and indications are that it has cross-party support and is likely to be enacted in some form. The Bill is in pretty good shape, but some provisions need strengthening to deliver much-needed improvements to the Gulf’s ecosystem. EDS will be appearing before the Environment Select Committee shortly in support of our extensive submission.
Freshwater Reforms on their way
|The Government has signalled its intention to repeal and replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and associated regulations. The following key changes to freshwater law and policy are set out in the coalition agreements and National’s manifesto:
- Rebalancing the hierarchy of Te Mana o te Wai
- Empowering and collaborating with local communities to define local limits, control sediment, and support efficient freshwater allocation, based on robust ‘real-time’ catchment data
- Setting Nationally Consistent Water Quality Standards for coastal waters
- Making water storage on land a permitted activity
- Making the creation and maintenance of wetlands a permitted activity
- Considering including wetlands in the Emissions Trading Scheme
- Investigating biodiversity credits to reward the creation of new wetlands
- Reducing farming regulation
- Supporting improving Farm Environment Plans
|EDS will be actively engaged with the review process which is expected to take 12-18 months. We will be advocating for the continued prioritisation of healthy waterways above commercial uses. Anything else will be unacceptable to EDS. Until any changes occur, the current National Policy Statement remains legally valid, and Councils have a responsibility to give effect to it in their plans without delay.
Insights on Sustainability Professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand Survey
|The Insights on Sustainability Professionals in Aotearoa New Zealand survey is now live.
|Oxygen Consulting, in partnership with Auckland University of Technology (AUT), the Sustainable Business Council (SBC), and the Sustainable Business Network (SBN), have launched their fifth annual survey on the sustainability profession in Aotearoa New Zealand and are inviting eligible participants to take part.
|This year's research builds on the 2023 study, which unlocked insights on three different role types within the sustainability profession for the first time. They will take this further in 2024 to investigate the capability development necessary to support the different roles.
|The survey can be accessed here. Read more about the research on this blog. Note the survey closes on 7 March.
Vanishing Nature revisited