Monday, March 11, 2024

A giant Henry VIII clause

National introduced its corrupt Muldoonist resource-consent fast-track legislation to the House on Thursday, and rammed it through its first reading. Having read the bill, it is every bid as bad as signalled, taking selected resource consent decisions away from independent panels and putting them directly in the hands of Ministers. Its the sort of thing we haven't seen since Muldoon, and with good reason: it throws any pretence of merits-based assessment out the window, replacing it with a contest to see who can bribe or lobby the Minister the most to get their pet project through. Which is not how decisions in this country are meant to work.

So who benefits from this corrupt steamroller process? Who needs it? Who is it for? We can start with who doesn't need it: renewable energy projects. Because with very few exceptions, they find it very easy to get resource consent, give or take a few conditions about noise setbacks and monitoring (and solar projects don't even need that). Ditto roads: they get resource consent very easily as well. And normal housing projects. Or indeed, any normal project whatsoever. The RMA is really about mitigating adverse effects, which means restricting or imposing conditions on projects which do that. A project has to be truly terrible or just outright illegal to have an application actually declined.

And that's who this process is for: projects which cannot get resource consent under the current system. Coal mines in reserves. Polluting fish farms in pristine natural environments. Water schemes which would flood conservation land. Waste dumps which make people sick. Offshore mining schemes found to be illegal by the Supreme Court.

A common theme linking these projects is that they blatantly violate the law. They are terrible projects, with significant, unmitigable effects on key environmental values. But rather than fix them so they comply with our environmental standards, the companies pushing them have decided to lobby Ministers instead. And rather than respecting the law, or using a democratic process to change it, National's solution is to give Ministers the power to overturn it on a case-by-case basis for their donors and cronies. And that's the real horror here: once you unpack it, the entire law is just one giant Henry VIII clause, allowing Shane Jones to effectively rewrite and overturn statute on a whim, for the benefit of whoever gave him the most money.

That is not democratic. It is not consistent with the rule of law, or with our values as a country. Instead, it is corrupt, authoritarian, and arbitrary. But I guess that's what the National Party stands for now.