On the 7th March, the Government introduced a new bill to fast-track consents for development projects, which would allow corporations to bypass environmental protections and democratic process.

The new Fast-track Approvals Bill would allow just three Ministers to approve or deny development projects without having to go through the usual checks and balances that are in place to protect nature. It would bypass not only the Resource Management Act, but also the Wildlife Act, the Conservation Act, the Reserves Act, the Heritage Act, coastal permits under the Fisheries Act, the Crown Minerals Act, and the Public Works Act.

Christopher Luxon has labelled the fast-track bill a ‘one stop shop’ – and it is. It is a one stop shop for undermining democracy, removing public participation, and declaring war on nature.

Greenpeace will continue to fight to protect people and nature, regardless of what the Government does, because we know that the vast majority of New Zealanders care about looking after nature. And we know we can win despite the National Party, because we’ve done it before in our fight to stop oil and gas exploration. But we’re incredibly concerned about the Fast-track Approvals Bill, and its implications for both people and the planet.

It’s complicated, but it’s important, so buckle up because we’re about to go on a whirlwind tour through the basics of fast-track consenting and the many many issues with this model of decision-making.

What is fast-track consenting?

Fast-track consenting is a process which would enable just three Government Ministers to approve development projects more quickly, by bypassing planning legislation and the checks and balances that are in place.

In the context of this new bill, the Government wants to strip away any need for meaningful public consultation about developments that Ministers in charge of development deem to be of regional or national significance. 

Just three ministers would be left to make decisions on which projects will be consented, after which they would send those projects to a panel of government-selected experts. Those experts would have a maximum of six months to consider a project, and set conditions around it – note that the experts themselves would be unable to deny a project.

If the Ministers disagree with the conditions set by the expert panel, they can send the application back to the panel to review again. 

There would be two pathways for projects to be fast-tracked through this new legislation. Firstly, a project could be directly included in the legislation. These projects would be determined by a ‘fast-track advisory group’, convened by the Government.

The second pathway is for an application to be made to the ministers, by the people who want the project to be fast-tracked. This would then be considered by the expert panel, but once again, the final decision would be made by the three ministers.

Why is fast-track consenting bad?

The fast-track consenting process would allow just three ministers to fast-track projects with no meaningful regard for nature. At the same time, it would suppress public and tangata whenua participation, as the process bypasses the normal opportunities for iwi, hapū, environmental experts and local communities to engage or oppose the developments.

The three Ministers involved in this project have vested interests in certain industries. Of particular note is Shane Jones, who has close ties to both the fishing and mining industries, and is now the Minister for Resources, Fisheries, and Regional Development. Jones will, as Minister for Regional Development, have input on every single decision made under the new legislation.

We have already seen Jones’ conflict of interest in play – he has recused himself from decisions on fast-tracking seabed mining because of conflict between mining and fishing interests. It’s telling that Shane Jones was backing seabed mining up until the point he realised that the fishing interests behind his campaign oppose it. This is a clear sign that the fast-track bill is incredibly vulnerable to corporate lobbying.

Shane Jones admits he has a conflict of interest between seabed mining and fisheries

Anyone can see that giving politicians with such deep ties to the industry unbridled power to approve consents, without even having to consider environmental implications or local communities’ concerns, is incredibly problematic. It opens the door to any of these three Ministers being able to simply approve their pet projects – or, more accurately, the pet projects of the destructive industries who are lobbying them – regardless of whether these projects are in the best interests of the public, tangata whenua, or the environment. This is a process that is open to corruption.

Minister for Infrastructure, Chris Bishop has publicly committed to fast-track irrigation dams, aquaculture, and mining on conservation estate, as well as potentially seabed mining. This legislation could also be used to fast-track mega dairy farms and other environmentally destructive projects.

We already know that fast tracking new mega dairy farms and irrigation dams will lead to more water pollution. New Zealand’s biggest source of water pollution is the dairy industry, and these projects will only expand industrial-scale dirty dairy, in regions where it has not previously been. Meanwhile, rural communities across the country are drinking nitrate-contaminated water, while many rivers and lakes are unswimmable.

This new fast-track bill would make things worse. In effect, Christopher Luxon’s Government has declared war on nature – and all of the places and wildlife that we love are officially under threat.

Additionally, this legislation threatens to undermine the Crown’s obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It does not require Ministers to give consideration to Te Tiriti, instead only referencing Treaty settlements. And it does not require iwi and hapū engagement with the process of consenting.

The law also restricts the ability to appeal decisions through the court system, as would normally be possible. This, combined with the complete lack of consultation processes, is absolutely undemocratic and deeply worrying.

So what can we do about the fast-track consenting bill?

We’re not going to take this threat lying down. Greenpeace Aotearoa, and many others around the country, have stood up for this planet for decades, and we will continue to do so, regardless of what this Government tries to do.

We’re going to continue to defend lakes and rivers from dirty dairy’s pollution – you can join our fight by sending an open letter to the Prime Minister below.

We’re also as committed as ever to fighting seabed mining off the coast of Taranaki, to protecting the oceans from commercial fishing interests and deep sea mining, and to stopping any attempt at oil and gas exploration before it starts.

We’ve faced a National-led Government hellbent on environmental destruction through oil and gas exploration before. Despite their best efforts, we fought off oil companies one by one. Petrobras, Anadarko, Statoil, Shell: all of these international oil companies gave up their permits and left, because New Zealanders resisted in great numbers.

If the Government thinks we’re just going to give up and let them declare war on nature now, they’re wrong. But we need everyone to fight this fast-track consenting bill. We need you to join us. Because together, the power of the people will always be stronger than the people in power.

March for nature - stop the fast-track Sat, 8 June, Aotea Square, 1pm - Rain or Shine!
Sat, 8 June, Aotea Square, 1pm – Rain or Shine!