Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A backdoor to environmental destruction

Next week Parliament is likely to vote on Nick Smith's mini-Muldoonist bill to seize land from a protected conservation area to build an irrigation dam. Smith's spin is that this is a one-off, but as Forest & Bird points out, there's a very real risk of setting a precedent for using Parliament as a backdoor to bypass the RMA and Conservation Acts:

[E]nvironmental lobby group Forest & Bird warns the bill might set a “moral” precedent, allowing a developmental back door for schemes, particularly those for water storage schemes, like the Waimea Dam, that are contrary to the Conservation Act.

“It just seems that everybody’s looking at ways that they can get around the Conservation Act for water storage schemes,” Forest & Bird solicitor Sally Gepp, of Nelson, says.

“The really concerning thing is, if this goes through then why just this one? Why not any other one? So all the other potentially damaging impacts on conservation land, which are not allowed under the Conservation Act, could potentially be facilitated by local bills. All you need is a willing local MP, who can put it forward and then get the votes in Parliament.”

Constitutionally, of course, Parliament can do what it likes. But that doesn't mean it should. Using legislation to bypass the law and the courts is obviously corrosive to the rule of law, and to the extent that it is successful, encourages developers to try that path rather than obeying the law. And as we've seen in Australia, having MP's involved in big-money development decisions is an invitation to corruption. There's no suggestion that that is what is happening in this case - Smith is just an orc, who is happy to destroy even our most protected areas so someone can make a buck - but "donations", kickbacks, and outright fees for legislation is the future behaviour that this invites. And every MP who votes for this bill is voting for that as well.