Monday, April 26, 2010

The Ministry of Justice on the Canterbury dictatorship

Last week, Minister for the Environment Nick Smith released (censored) cabinet papers on his decision to replace the elected Canterbury Regional Council with a pack of unelected dictators. But while Smith was eager for a coup to distribute Canterbury's water to its rapacious and dirty farmers, others weren't so keen. According to the Cabinet paper (p. 22),

The Ministry of Justice does not agree with the proposals to replace the elected Councillors for all of ECan’s functions, defer local body elections or remove the right of appeal on the NRRP or water conservation orders, except on points of law. The proposals to replace the elected Councillors and defer local body elections are of constitutional significance. The proposals to remove the right of appeal on the NRRP or water conservation orders, except on points of law, present an access to justice issue. The Ministry of Justice is concerned that this is not consistent with the Government's statement on regulation: "better regulation, less regulation" which requires "a particularly strong case [to be] made for any regulatory proposals that are likely to override fundamental common law principles (as referenced in Chapter 3 of the Legislation Advisory Committee guidelines). These common law principles include "the right of citizens to have access to the courts." The Ministry of Justice considers that this is a significant proposal, which combined with the removal of the elected councillors means that parties with a stake in Canterbury's natural resources have significantly less ability to protect their rights and interests than elsewhere in the country."
There is also strong criticism from the Department of Conservation, which saw the replacement as overkill not justified by the report, and the changes to the Water Conservation Order regime as
prevent[ing] achievement of the purpose of the WCO section in the RMA, and lead[ing] to the loss of outstanding water body values.
All of these concerns were of course ignored, and thanks to a gaping hole in the Bill of Rights Act, the dictatorship was certified as consistent with human rights legislation.

Meanwhile, over on FrogBlog, Russel Norman draws attention to another clause in the bill, which allows Nick Smith to suspend application of the RMA in Canterbury. As Norman points out, this is contrary to the rule of law, and reduces the "law" to the arbitrary whim of a Minister.

So, we have a government which replaces an elected council with dictators because they don't like the decisions it makes, makes the decisions of those dictators unreviewable by the courts, and gives itself the power to arbitrarily suspend key environmental and planning laws if they get in the way of its plans - and all under urgency to prevent public debate. Norman is right: this is Muldoonism. ECan is the new Clyde Dam.