UPDATE: We have now found out that the politician chairing the select committee considering the fast track bill, David MacLeod, has illegally failed to declare $180,000 in donations. Moreover, some of those donations come from a major shareholder in the seabed mining company TTR. TTR is planning to use the fast track legislation to circumvent the Supreme Court decision blocking its seabed mining plans. In fact one of the decision-making Ministers under the Fast Track law, Chris Bishop, wrote to TTR inviting them to apply to use the fast track. So a major shareholder of TTR gave campaign money to the National Party MP who chaired the select committee on the fast track bill while the National Party Minister invited TTR to apply for a fast track.

Worried yet? The New Zealand government’s war on nature has been ramping up. A raft of policies attacking environmental protection are being released by the new Luxon/Peters/Seymour Government.

We’ve been describing it as a war on nature. But it can be challenging to keep up with this many environmental attacks, coming from different Ministers and in different stages of development. To make it clearer, I have tried to list all the anti-nature policies below, provide some background, and give an indication of their stage in the policy process. 

When you list them all like this, it really is entirely fair to describe it as a ‘war on nature’.

1. Fast track approvals bill is a fast track to destruction

The premier vehicle for the government’s anti-environmental war on nature is the Fast Track Approvals Bill, currently before Parliament’s Environment Select Committee. This Bill has been well traversed elsewhere but it is worth noting here a few things.

Three cowboys

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks to the media along with ministers Chris Bishop, Shane Jones and Simeon Brown during a 100-day plan announcement at Basin Reserve on March 07, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand where they were questioned by Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop about the risk of freshwater pollution that their plans pose.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaks to the media along with fast track ministers Chris Bishop, Shane Jones and Simeon Brown during a 100-day plan announcement at Basin Reserve on March 07, 2024 in Wellington, New Zealand where they were questioned by Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop about the risk of freshwater pollution that their plans pose. © Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Firstly, this bill gives three individual ministers with no particular knowledge or expertise the ability to green light pretty much any project they like with almost zero environmental constraints.

There are panels who will provide advice to Ministers on individual projects, however these panels are handpicked by the Ministers and the Ministers are free to ignore the panels’ recommendations.The Ministers have publicly and clearly voiced their disdain for environmental considerations.

No public input

Secondly, there is no opportunity for public input.

They can approve an industrial incinerator next door and you don’t even have the right to make a submission on it. It’s a pretty wild level of disregard for the general public, but of course those who have connections to the government will have plenty of chances to lobby ministers at fundraising dinners and suchlike. 

This results in poor decision making. One of the things about public submissions is that information comes to the surface that was otherwise hidden. In the Pakiri sand mining case for instance it was revealed through public submissions that the sandmining company was not telling the truth about its actual sandmining practices and that its expert had overestimated the annual sand replacement by a factor of ten.

Under this regime, it isn’t what you know, or whether you have a good project, it’s who you know.

Court decisions overturned

Thirdly, this process can overturn court decisions in which projects have already been declined due to environmental impacts.

This is patently the case with the South Taranaki seabed mining proposal which was rejected by the Supreme Court. Independent judges who tested evidence submitted and cross examined in open court found that the applicant simply couldn’t demonstrate that their project wouldn’t cause immense harm.

But this is all replaced by closed panels giving advice to Ministers who will make decisions with zero public scrutiny. It’s banana republic stuff.

Blocking renewable energy projects

One of the impacts of this kind of Government-by-Ministerial-Fiat is that that rational and evidence based decision making is put to one side in favour of individual favours.

An example of this is the conflict between seabed mining and offshore wind in the south Taranaki Bight. A normal rational decision-making process could look at both, but in this case, it will come down to which companies can woo the three Ministers the best.


Finally, this is a process which is wide open to corruption, as corporations pushing projects that cause environmental harm seek to be placed on the fast track list, with a virtual guarantee of approval.

Ministers could be corruptly influenced by bribes in cash or in kind, by jobs for their families, by jobs for themselves post-politics, or by campaign donations. Advisers who provide access to Ministers and determine which corporations get onto the list will be equally incentivised to act corruptly.

Already, some of the companies that Ministers have invited to apply for fast track are their donors. Mining company executives have had secret dinners with Ministers that were only revealed by accident and journalists asking questions. How many secret dinners will we never find out about?

Even the Ministry for the Environment analysis can be summarised as the bill: 

‘could diminish local voices, violate Treaty of Waitangi commitments, significantly impact human and environmental health, open legal risks for the ministers involved, provide an unprecedented back door for prohibited projects, and erode the value of conservation land’

This single bill, if it proceeds and if businesses have the gall to use it, will cause widespread harm. It could include seabed mining, incinerators imposed on local communities, mining most everywhere including the conservation estate, marine farms everywhere, industrial irrigation driving water pollution, etc etc etc. It is a war on nature but it is also diminishing democracy and opening the door to corruption.

2. Dismantling freshwater protections

One of the truly remarkable things about Aotearoa is the scale of ground and surface water pollution and its impact on biodiversity and human health. This government’s war on nature is set to make it worse.

Things are pretty bad already

The Ministry for the Environment concluded that ‘Most of our indigenous freshwater fish and freshwater bird species… are either threatened with extinction or at risk of becoming threatened’. Intensive industrial dairy has poisoned the well across much of the South Island – Canterbury, Otago and Southland have poisoned rivers and groundwater. 

Land and Water Aotearoa found that ‘There is not a single monitored lake shallower than 10 metres in very good condition.’ Environment Canterbury in 2024 found nitrate levels increasing in 60% of the wells it tested. Many parts of the North Island with intensive dairying such as the Waikato are also heavily polluted

Under pressure from the environment movement and the majority of New Zealanders, the last government brought in a series of national regulations to place some constraints on agribusiness pollution, particularly the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management. Agribusiness virulently and vociferously opposed these regulations. 

The new government is setting about undoing these regulations with its war on nature.

Delaying regional freshwater plans

This began in December 2023 when Andrew Hoggard, the former head of agribusiness lobby group Federated Farmers and now Associate Agriculture Minister, announced that regional councils would be given a further three years to update their freshwater plans to make the plans consistent with the new national regulations introduced by the last government.

The purpose of the delay is to weaken or remove the national regulations before the regional councils develop their new regional freshwater plans which must be consistent with the national regulations. 

Replacing the National Policy Statement

He also announced that they would start the process of systematically weakening the national regulations by replacing the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPSFM) with a weaker version.

Removing rules on intensive winter grazing

Cows in mud in a Southland intensive winter grazing system could be back under the fast-track bill
Cows in mud in a Southland intensive winter grazing system. © Angus Robson

This was followed up in April 2024 with the announcement of an amendment to the RMA which will remove the rules controlling intensive winter grazing.

Intensive winter grazing is a widespread practice in Otago and Southland in which feed crops are grazed intensively through winter. This results in cows, often pregnant, living in mud sometimes up to their bellies with massive sediment flows into rivers and lakes. The sediment smothers freshwater ecosystems.

Ensuring Te Mana o Te Wai doesn’t apply to consents

Also included in this amendment to the RMA is a direction to regional councils that a national regulatory instrument called Te Mana o Te Wai must not be applied to the assessment of individual resource consent applications. Te Mana o Te Wai states that, when making decisions on the allocation of freshwater, the needs of ecosystems come first, the needs of human health second, and other uses such as irrigation third. 

Te Mana o te Wai was the foundation for hearing panels rejecting applications to take water and cause more pollution in Hawkes Bay and Southland recently. Giant dairy polluter Fonterra and agribusiness lobby groups objected to this use of Te Mana o Te Wai and appealed the decisions.

The new Government aims to ensure that commercial users can get first consideration ahead of ecosystems or human health. This also means the lessons of the world’s biggest crypospridiosis outbreak in Havelock North are abandoned .

Freshwater Farm plans to be weakened or abolished

Alongside this Freshwater Farm Plans, which were a requirement for agribusiness managers to plan to reduce their water pollution, will be weakened if not abolished altogether.

As you can see it is an intensive and extensive attack on the rules protecting freshwater as part of the broader war on nature.

3. Removal of requirement to identify important areas of biodiversity

A large part of New Zealand’s remaining biodiversity is on private land with very little legal protection, which is leading to dramatic losses. This happens through wetland drainage, agricultural intensification, subdivisions etc.

Even as recently as 2009 Landcare Research reported that ‘Agricultural intensification over the past 10 years has led to the highest rate of native vegetation loss since European colonisation.’ Landcare Research was deeply unpopular with the government and agribusiness after making this finding.

In response to the widespread destruction of biodiversity on private land the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity was introduced in 2023 after many years of discussion and consultation. The purpose is ‘to maintain indigenous biodiversity across Aotearoa New Zealand so that there is at least no overall loss in indigenous biodiversity’. A part of this national policy statement is a requirement for councils to identify ‘Significant Natural Areas’ in their area as a precursor to providing for their protection.

The idea of rules to protect biodiversity ran up against agribusiness, the key driver of the ‘highest rate of native vegetation loss since European colonisation’, and hence Federated Farmers deeply opposed these rules.

As part of the RMA amendment bill announced in April 2024, the Luxon Government plans to remove the requirement that councils identify ‘’Significant Natural Areas’’, and hence biodiversity on private land will not even be identified let alone protected so its destruction can continue unabated. 

4. Transport – more motorways, fewer cycleways and less public transport

Land transport is New Zealand’s second biggest climate polluter after agribusiness and yet this government has embarked on a radical policy agenda to increase pollution. The war on nature can be illustrated just by listing some of the initiatives:

Cuts to public transport

They have cut funding to public transport, walking and cycling and increased funding to motorways as part of the draft Government Policy Statement on land transport. Auckland Council pointed out that entire suburbs would be left without access to public transport as a result of the cuts and that fares would increase.

Across the whole country this draft policy statement will lead to more transport pollution and fewer trips by public transport walking and cycling. It also centralises much of the decision making around transport by preventing Councils from building cycleways alongside roads funded by central government money.

As part of the draft policy statement they removed climate as a requirement for consideration in transport decision making.

Impact on young people

They have removed the subsidies for young people to use public transport at discounted rates, not only making the cost of living crisis harder for them and their families but pushing them towards car transport.

They are moving to increase speeds around schools which not only increases injuries it discourages families from sending their kids to school by bike or foot because they know that speeding cars are more dangerous.

This sits alongside the attacks on traffic calming measures such as raised pedestrian crossings, which the NZ Herald has been busy providing misinformation about. Many Councils are resisting the idiots in Wellington, thank goodness, and are lowering speed limits anyway.

Interisland ferry funding removal

They cut the funding for the interisland ferry terminals and cancelled the new ferries which have lower emissions. The ferries connect the train network as well as the roading network.

Kiwirail lost its Climate Bonds certification as a result and will repay the $350m it borrowed plus interest. 

The cost to the Government of breaking the ship build contracts is thought to be in the hundreds of millions. It’s an expensive mistake which a future government will have to fix.

Ending subsidies for low-emissions vehicles

They ended the subsidies for low emissions vehicles resulting in a collapse in EV and small car sales and once again Ford Rangers at the top of the list (guzzling gas and killing pedestrians and cyclists).

While we can’t simply replace traffic jams of internal combustion engine cars with traffic jams of electric cars, nonetheless EVs are part of the low carbon solution.

Removing council’s transport plans

The Government has moved to end Wellington’s transport plan with its focus on public transport walking and cycling and move towards more cars. There remains uncertainty as to the future solution but clearly they want more cars.

They abolished the Auckland Regional Fuel tax of ten cents a litre which was used mostly to fund the building of the first stages of the Eastern Busway and new commuter rail carriages. The Eastern Busway has now been reduced in size, as the fourth phase is unfunded.

They cancelled the Auckland light rail project. This project was troubled, with the previous government heading down the most expensive track, but there are still better options than just cancelling it. 

There’s even more but you get the sense of it. Their transport policy is plainly designed to increase climate pollution as part of their war on nature. 

5. The war on dolphins, seals and marine life

The government’s war on nature is not only being fought on land. It extends to the oceans too. 

Marine biodiversity

The fast-track bill could see more bottom trawling
Crewman on the New Zealand bottom trawler, Waipori, dump a large piece of Paragorgia coral dredged from the deep sea in their net.

The majority of Aotearoa’s biodiversity is to be found in the oceans around us and the main driver of biodiversity destruction in the oceans is the fishing industry.

This is particularly the case for practices like bottom trawling, where heavy nets are dragged along the ocean floor destroying corals and sponges in order to catch fish near the bottom.

Over the last decade the environment movement and the majority of New Zealanders have been slowly pushing governments towards improving oversight of the fishing industry and restrictions on their most destructive practices. But the new government wants to go backwards…

South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation 

There is an obscure inter-governmental organisation called the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) that is meant to regulate fisheries in the international waters of the South Pacific.

The other countries in this forum are trying to restrict bottom trawling because of the immense harm it causes. As the last country actively bottom trawling in the international waters of the South Pacific, New Zealand is opposing these constraints, but under the last government had agreed to some modest restrictions.

The new government has changed its position, opposing protection of vulnerable coral habitats from trawling, and does not support any kind of restrictions on bottom trawling. 

Cameras on boats

After the various scandals led to a 2016 Ministerial Inquiry into the Ministry of Primary Industries’ regulation of the fishing industry, the Key Government agreed to implement cameras on boats to better monitor illegal behaviour such as fish dumping, dolphin killing etc.

These cameras were finally rolled out over the last few years to about 120 fishing vessels and have so far resulted in a dramatic increase in reporting of dolphin and bird killings and fish dumping.

But Shane Jones, Minister of Fishing and recipient of seafood industry campaign donations, doesn’t like them and wants to review them. Another option the government is canvassing is to hand them over to Fishserv, the fishing industry owned company that oversees the Quota Management System.

None of these are good options but where it ends is still unclear.

Increasing catch limits

In spite of the collapse of numerous fisheries, the Minister of Fisheries decided to increase catch limits.

The population of one of the species, the southern bluefin tuna, has collapsed 92% since the height of fishing madness in the 1960s. This follows the collapse of orange roughy fishery, hoki, scallops, crayfish etc etc. 

And with regard to killing endangered New Zealand sea lions the new Government decided there would no longer be an upper limit on the number of sea lions that the fishing industry can drown in trawl nets.

This will no doubt be the tip of the iceberg as more change emerges from the Minister.

6. Increased climate pollution

Aside from the long list of policies above that will increase climate pollution (e.g. transport), the government has introduced other policies to increase emissions. The impacts from these policies mean the government’s war on nature will be felt internationally.

Restarting offshore oil and gas exploration

The fast-track bill could see more oil drilling
A drilling rig commissioned by oil giant OMV arrives in New Zealand to drill 12 exploratory drilling wells off the coast of Taranaki.

The global battle against fossil fuels has both a supply and demand side.

On the demand side are the battles around fossil fuel electricity generation and internal combustion engines vehicles.

But the supply side is also critical because, as the International Energy Agency found back in 2021, we can’t afford to bring more fossil fuel supply online if we are to avoid catastrophic warming. The head of the IEA said: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.” We know that once oil companies spend vast amounts to find and develop new fossil fuel reserves they will continue to sell them into the global fossil fuel market. 

Hence the decision by the New Zealand Government in 2018 to stop issuing new offshore oil and gas exploration permits was a critical step forward in the global fossil fuel battle. Other countries have now joined this movement and there is a growing group of governments and civil society groups supporting a Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty.

The announcement by the Luxon Government that it will restart the issuance of offshore oil and gas exploration permits is a global leap backwards. It’s another sign that their fighting a war on nature, not fossil fuels

The Government is looking to subsidise the industry by providing insurance against future policy changes. They are also looking to remove the requirement that oil companies provide a clean up bond to cover future clean up costs. These clean up bonds were introduced after Tamarind oil company went bankrupt leaving the taxpayer with a $300m bill to clean up after them.

The Government is falsely claiming that the recent electricity shortages are linked to the 2018 decision to stop issuing new permits for oil and gas exploration – an argument that is transparently false.

Changing the way methane warming is measured

The global livestock lobby has a policy agenda to change the way that the climate warming of methane is measured. This is to make it look like methane causes less warming than it really does.

They want to move away from the global standard accepted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as standard called GWP100. They want the world to adopt a standard called GWP*. Under GWP* New Zealand’s methane is recategorised as not causing warming! Agribusiness likes GWP* because they won’t need to cut emissions! 

The New Zealand agribusiness lobby groups are part of this project, and now they have the former head of Federated Farmers in Government, they have their chance to push it. The Government has established a panel to look into the measurement of the warming of methane emissions. I would be very surprised if the panel does not recommend the adoption of GWP*. 

Both the Climate Commission and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment have concluded that there is no basis to review the science around the measurement of the warming effect of methane.

More cash for magic bullets

The New Zealand Government has given hundreds of millions of dollars to look for magic bullets to reduce methane emissions from dairy cattle and other livestock. So far no magic bullets have been discovered but the new Government has thrown another $18m at this greenwashing.

The purpose of all this is to avoid having to cut emissions by doing things that actually work like reducing fertiliser use and stocking rates.

Zero Carbon Act – greenwashing law retained

It is noteworthy that a Government conducting a war on climate and biodiversity policy has kept the Zero Carbon Act (ZCA) in place. But there is a good reason for that – the ZCA was largely a greenwashing exercise as was revealed once it was tested in court. 

When Lawyers for Climate Action went to court to try to use the ZCA to actually force emissions cuts on the government, the Climate Minister, James Shaw, went to court to argue that the Paris Agreement climate goals referenced in the ZCA were merely ‘aspirational’ and not binding on the New Zealand government.

This was in spite of Shaw saying publicly that the ZCA made the Paris target legally binding on the government. Shaw won the case and the climate lawyers lost. The new Government is very fond of the ZCA because it is just ‘aspirational’. 

He Waka Eke Noa – its job is done

One final piece of the puzzle is pricing agribusiness emissions. This was delayed throughout the course of the last government by the He Waka Eke Noa process. This will now be either quietly euthanised or kept as another greenwashing figleaf, but we can be sure there will be no price on agricultural emissions – they will be subsidised by the rest of us.

Once more dear friends into the breach

So that is my read of the state of play of their war on nature.

We will need to mobilise people power to challenge the government’s agenda and to challenge any corporation that tries to use the new fast track process. It is a bit bleak after six years of a Government that claimed to take climate and biodiversity seriously but delivered so very little. 

But the truth is that real gains only ever come out of a mobilised civil society and achieving a mobilised civil society is exactly what we have to do.

Join us on Saturday, 8 June to March for Nature if you can. It’s important that we stand up together against this appalling war on nature.

Greenpeace staff paint a March For Nature banner in the Greenpeace warehouse
Join the March for Nature

Saturday, 8 June, Aotea Square on Queen St from 1pm. Put it in your diary, organise some friends and paint your placards – it’s time to stand for nature!

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