Sunday, May 26, 2024

National's bulldozer dictatorship bill

This National government has been aggressively anti-environment, and is currently ramming through its corrupt Muldoonist "fast-track" legislation to give three ministers dictatorial powers over what gets built and where. But that's not the only thing they're doing. On Thursday they introduced a Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, and the Order Paper says they'll be ramming it through its first reading on Tuesday. Obviously, this bill is about removing environmental protections which currently stop farmers from shitting in rivers and chainsawing native bush. But its far wider than that.

The RMA has an extensive system of national environmental standards and national policy statements, which are supposed to guide the plans and policies made by local authorities to cover matters of national importance. As I pointed out when Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard purported to "suspend" one by press conference, there is an actual legal process required to change these. This requires either an independent board of inquiry, or, if control-freaked by a Minister, notification, consultation, an evaluation and decision-making according to legislated criteria. The bill basically guts all that.

Firstly, of course, it removes independent boards. These decisions will be made by Ministers, and only by Ministers, strengthening their role as a nexus of corruption in the system. Secondly, while those corrupt Ministers will still be required to notify the public of what they want to do, we won't be allowed to have a say. An objective criteria that we be given "adequate time and opportunity to make a submission" is replaced with a squishy one of "what the Minister considers to be adequate time..." We've seen what that means to National in their constant abuse of Parliamentary select committee submission windows to prevent public engagement.

As for evaluation, there'll be a special stove-piped process for these Ministerial diktats. They will still be required to assess effectiveness, environmental and economic (but not social or cultural) impacts, and reasonably practicable alternatives. But there's no longer a requirement to assess costs and benefits, or the risks of acting (or not acting) when information is uncertain. Worse, the requirement that national directions be "the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of this Act" is removed; in fact, they will no longer be required to serve the purposes of the Act (or the other matters identified as important in the RMA) at all. And, as the final insult, there will no longer be a requirement to give reasons for the decision. This is likely cribbed from National's previous attacks on refugees, and like those, it is a recipe for legislated arbitrariness - a bulldozer dictatorship.

Finally, decision-making. Under the current law, if Ministers decide to control-freak, they must still decide on the same basis as a board of inquiry would, taking account of the purposes of the Act and other matters of national importance (including ti Tiriti), and the submissions and evidence received. That's all gone. So, in deciding on environmental standards and policies under the RMA, Ministers won't need to consider the purpose of that law, legislated matters of national importance, other important values, or ti Tiriti. None of that will matter. Neither will what we say - Ministers won't be required to consider it at all. The clear implication is that Ministers will be making decisions counter to those purposes and values, counter to ti Tiriti. And with the concentration of powers making the Minister a nexus for corruption, it basically replaces the legislated values with the Minister's bank balance.

Oh, and the Minister won't even have to do that if they're changing a national direction for a bunch of reasons, including "chang[ing] the time frame for implementation" - meaning Ministers can indefinitely delay things on a whim, without notification or consultation.

As I said, this is basically a bulldozer dictatorship, which will gut our environmental protections for the benefit of vandals and polluters, while enabling Ministers to corruptly enrich themselves in the process. It is contrary to our values and to our constitutional norms for decision-making. It should not be allowed to pass. And if it is rammed through, it must be immediately removed, under urgency, by the next government.