Fast-Track Approvals Bill Open Letter

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The government is introducing legislation that will circumvent democracy. The Fast Track Approvals Bill proposes to give government ministers the power to override the Resource Management Act, the Conservation Act, the Wildlife Act, the Crown Minerals Act, the Fisheries Act and others to unilaterally approve projects without consultation or any other due process. What will be next?

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Fast-Track Approvals Bill Open Letter

To the Chair of the Environment Select Committee

Re: Fast-Track Approvals Bill (FTA)

Kia ora David MacLeod MP,

Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union (TEU) holds deep concerns about the government’s Fast-track Approvals Bill (the Bill).

The stated aim of the Bill is to “provide a streamlined decision-making process to facilitate the delivery of infrastructure and development projects with significant regional or national benefits.” Such intent will allow decision-makers to potentially circumvent open public consultation on matters that are clearly of public concern, such as the environmental impact of projects across our aquaculture and agriculture sectors. The intention nor the Bill provides guidance on the weighting of the evidence presented by the applicant if there are environmental concerns vs the economic outcomes.

Joint Ministers as the sole decision makers as to what projects can be fast-tracked, and their ability to disregard recommendations provided by the panel, opens the process up to scrutiny reflecting a lack of transparency and accountability.

As such, the purpose of the Bill is undemocratic and goes against principles of good governance.

Experts from across our tertiary education sector hold specialist knowledge on matters relating to approvals covered by the Bill. Legislation which prevents tertiary education experts from influencing matters of public concern will only narrow the perspectives under consideration, thereby creating the space for lobbyists to gain approval for projects which prioritise their own economic advantage, as opposed to Aotearoa New Zealand’s broader societal, cultural, environmental, and economic interests.

The narrowing of the evidence required for the applicant to firstly add to their application and, then provide to the panel diminishes the opportunity for specialist groups to provide necessary and relevant evidence. These experts under the current wording of the Bill would be prevented from attending hearings as they would be deemed to have ‘an interest the same as the general public.’

TEU education sector members teach and research in areas such as primary, agricultural, and aquaculture which can provide new and innovative ways for these industries to be able to progress not only in a better economic way, but also balancing the needs of the environment. These new methodologies may go against the grain of what industries are used to, but would be able to deliver better economic, environmental, and social outcomes. Disregarding and failing to allow experts in these fields to be able to submit to the panel will further lower the OCED ranking of Aotearoa.

TEU academic sector members who teach and research in the areas of policy and law have raised concerns around the legal legitimacy of a Bill that deliberately, by design, excludes groups whose voices would be heard under the current RMA at a hearing. Exclusion of the democratic voice for no other purpose than to fast-track business profits is an appalling misuse of power.

TEU members have raised concerns about the concept of the separation of powers. Ministers make up the Cabinet, and the Cabinet is responsible to Parliament. The Judiciary interprets the laws made in Parliament. Ministers being able to determine which projects need to be fast-tracked and the decisions of those Ministers not having the checks and balances from Parliament. The decisions of the Ministers can only be appealed against in the narrowest of circumstances, which further lends to a loss of the democratic process.

TEU firmly holds the view that this Bill is merely to appease big business to be able to extend their profits without countenancing the needs of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, the environment, and the future of the planet.

TEU will stand firmly in this position and call on its members and supporters to lodge submissions to the Committee to prevent this Bill passing into law.

Signed,

Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union

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