Monday, May 04, 2020

A terrible idea

Since forever, the orcs have wanted to gut the RMA. Cut out the public, rubber-stamp consents, ram development through regardless of environmental costs or the wishes of local communities, so they can take their money and run. National wanted to do this during their term, but couldn't get the numbers. But now Labour is going to do it, supposedly as a pandemic response:

Cabinet has approved the fast tracking of large shovel ready projects, largely bypassing the Resource Management Act.


The aim is to boost the economy as it enters a sharp downturn brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new act, due to be passed in June, would take away the ability of the public and councils to have an input in to whether projects proceed and instead hand this power to small panels of experts, chaired by an Environment Court judge. But this would only be for a period of two years.

This is a terrible move, which will result in terrible decisions. Why? Because the public participation the orcs see as a time-wasting impediment is actually about providing evidence of environmental and community impacts. So what the government is proposing is making resource management decisions without hearing that evidence, by hearing evidence only from one side: the developer's side. And that's not just morally wrong, a prima facie breach of the public's right to natural justice in these processes - it is also simply stupid. Throw in the limitation of appeal rights, and we're looking at a situation where stupid, one-sided decisions will be made, and we will institutionally have no way of correcting them. But hand-picked developers and cronies will be laughing all the way to the bank.

But its a terrible idea for another reason too: because it creates a single gatekeeper, the Minister, who by deciding whether to fast-track an application will effectively decide whether it proceeds. That's an obvious nexus for corruption, and it invites lobbying, palm-greasing, party "donations", cronyism, or just outright bribes. And to see how that turns out, we only have to look across the Tasman, where the entire development system is a cesspit, and (state-level) politicians are regularly convicted of corruption for taking bribes or being financially interested in such decisions. David Parker may be a person of integrity, but we shouldn't depend on our ministers being like that, and as a matter of institutional design, having a person with such powers is simply unsafe.

Finally, of course, public participation serves an important role in legitimising decisions. And if you prevent the public from having their say through the RMA process, they'll just have to have it through protests, occupations, and sabotage. And if the government is relying on continued anti-mass gathering restrictions to prevent that, then this is a bigger attack on democracy than I thought.

Naturally, the Greens oppose these changes. But sadly, that doesn't mean they'll vote against them. Instead, a fundamental gutting of the RMA will be sent to select committee with green votes. Which really makes you wonder whether the party stands for anything any more. Instead of collaborating with the orcs, they should be fighting them, every step of the way. And if that means they upset their coalition partners, then so be it. The fact that Labour is pushing this means they're not a suitable partner for government anymore, and it is time to pull the plug.