Thursday, July 02, 2020

Steamrolling democracy again

After a sham select committee process which waste submitters' time, the government is planning to use urgency today to steamroll its Muldoonist RMA fast track bill through Parliament.

I've talked before about what's wrong with the Bill. As mentioned above, its pure Muldoonism, bypassing the participatory RMA process with a Ministerial rubber-stamp. This isn't just bad because it is undemocratic and authoriatarian and creates a nexus for corruption - it will also deprive the decision-making panels of the evidence they need to make good decisions. And we'll be stuck with the consequences of those poor decisions for decades to come.

Perhaps in an effort to mitigate this - or rather, give the impression that it is mitigating this - the Bill requires consenting panels to notify and invite comments from a select group of environmental NGOs. Effectively these groups are being statutorily appointed as proxies for the whole of New Zealand. But they will receive no resources to do the job they are being asked to do, have only ten working days to respond to any submission, and it is not clear whether they are legally allowed to tell anyone about it or crowdsource public comments so they can make high-quality submissions and present the evidence that the panels need to see. Its even worse when you consider the threshold the Minister, with their choice of listed projects, has set: 30-50 jobs. In terms of your project, that's basicly the size of your local supermarket. And its the government's apparent position that any project of that scale should go through the Minister - perhaps greasing the party's palm on the way - and then through the rubberstamp process. Which means that if the law works as apparently intended, these NGOs are going to be swamped. Even if there is extremely strong gatekeeping from the Minister, and it is only a handful of projects a month, they are not going to be able to effectively do the job the government is demanding of them (for free).

But then, maybe that's the point. The RMA is an adversarial system. And you break an adversarial system by massively outgunning and overworking one side. But the consequence of that is that a) the system doesn't work properly; and b) the results are not perceived as legitimate. What the government gains in speed from its rubberstamp may very well be lost to protests and occupations.