Earlier this year, the Government introduced a new bill to Parliament which rolls back some of New Zealand’s world-leading freshwater protections.

We all should be able to go swimming in local lakes and rivers, and no matter what, everyone should have access to safe drinking water. New Zealand’s freshwater protections aren’t perfect, but they were put in place to improve water quality, and they are slowly working.

Now, this Bill – rather boringly named the ‘Resource Management (Freshwater and Other Matters) Amendment Bill’ – proposes to remove any requirement to follow those world-leading freshwater protections. This will allow mud-farming to resume, and prevent councils from considering the impacts of developments on freshwater and drinking water.

Right now, the Bill is open for public submissions —but only until June 30th.

The Government has asked for your opinion on whether to allow this Bill to continue. To help you do that, we’ve put together this quick and easy guide on how to make a submission!

The more personal and unique your submission is, the more likely the Government will listen. That’s why we’re asking you to take the time to write your own—or at least edit the text we’ve made available.

Here’s a quick and easy guide to submitting on the new freshwater protection amendment bill.

Step One: Go to the official submission page and fill out your personal details

When you get to the submission page, it will ask for a few key pieces of information.

Say whether you’re submitting as an individual or an organisation and if you want to make an additional oral submission. We definitely recommend doing this, as it means there’s a higher chance of the committee listening to you! They allow oral submissions via Zoom, so you don’t have to be in Wellington to do this. 

They will also ask for some basic contact information—your full name, phone number, email address, and region. This is just so that the Government can reach you if they have any questions or follow-up, especially if you’ve requested to make an oral submission.

Step Two: tell them what you think about the proposed changes!

You have three options here. You can upload a document, copy or paste into the form, or type directly into the form that they provide.

There are a few things that it’s really important to say to ensure the most impact possible.

  1. Firstly, let them know that you don’t support the bill and that the freshwater bill should be scrapped in its entirety. That might mean saying something along the lines of:

    This Bill is fundamentally a step backwards at a time where freshwater is in dire need of improvement – it is not the way to ensure that freshwater is protected. This Bill should be rejected in its entirety, because it undermines important freshwater protections and puts at risk already threatened ecosystems and the public health of communities.
  2. Make your submission personal! If you have concerns about freshwater pollution in your community, if your drinking water is contaminated with nitrate, or if you’re worried about unswimmable rivers, you should talk about this. Talk about who you are and why you care about freshwater and drinking water.
  3. Let them know that you want to keep the current hierarchy of obligations in place, which puts the health of freshwater and communities above the commercial use of water. That could look like this:

    Meddling with the hierarchy of obligations could cause confusion and costs for consentees and would not give our community confidence that our fresh drinking water will be protected. The health of freshwater ecosystems and access to safe drinking water should always be a priority over commercial interests.
  4. Point out that the evidence shows that this Bill isn’t actually going to fix anything.

    In its Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS), the Ministry for the Environment stated that there is limited evidence that the hierarchy of obligations is having an impact on consent applications. This suggests that the Bill is a solution looking for a problem.
  5. Talk about your particular concerns. That might be something along the lines of:

    I’m particularly concerned by the proposal to roll back intensive winter grazing regulations. This widely criticised practice can pollute waterways with sediment run-off and result in poor animal welfare outcomes for cattle standing in mud. The Government has not produced evidence that intensive winter grazing practices have improved sufficiently.

It’s important to keep your submission brief and impactful. Politicians are busy and often have to read hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions on a Bill, so make every sentence count.

Extra for experts!

If you’re keen to know more about what specifically this Bill will do, here is a summary of the proposed changes:

Right now, when a regional council is considering a consent application, they must first prioritise the health of the freshwater ecosystem. They then have to prioritise the health of local communities, including access to safe drinking water. All other uses of water come next in this hierarchy of considerations. 

This new bill will remove these obligations from the resource consent process, meaning authorities will no longer need to prioritise ecosystem health or public health when applicants want to use their water. 

The Bill will also weaken regulations for intensive winter grazing, often called “mud farming”, additional pathways for coal mining, and suspend requirements to identify new Significant Natural Areas (SNAs). 

Freshwater protections were introduced in 2020 to stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources, start making immediate improvements so that water quality is improving within five years, and reverse past damage to bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation. 

One of the key objectives for these new regulations was the hierarchy of obligations, to prioritise the health of freshwater ecosystems and the health of communities before commercial interests could use freshwater for their means. This is the framework known as Te Mana o Te Wai, which the Government is now trying to remove.

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