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Hon Chris Bishop 
Minister for RMA Reform 

15 March 2024 

Tēnā koe Minister Bishop,  

On 8th March you introduced legislation that threatens to fundamentally undermine the protections New Zealand has in place for our unique natural environment and places at risk our international reputation and obligations. 

The Fast track Approvals Bill is unprecedented. It poses grave risks to New Zealand’s environment and New Zealanders’ way of life.  

This Bill empowers Ministers to over-ride the core environmental standards needed to protect our natural heritage, homes and communities. It also denies New Zealanders the right to be involved in decisions that affect them.  

This is not about fast-tracking responsible, environmentally sound development. That power already exists through existing resource management legislation and the Government is entitled to use it.    

This Bill is about green-lighting developments that our current environmental protections prohibit. You have said publicly that Ministers will use this legislation to approve coal mines, dams, seabed mining and other developments, which will have significant environmental impacts. These are projects that in all likelihood would be unlawful under existing environmental and conservation laws. 

You say that you will have checks and balances in place through Expert Panels. But the powers you are proposing for these panels, and the criteria on which they can make their recommendations, are inadequate. Your panels must prioritise the provision of infrastructure and development over all other resource management concerns. Panels will be able recommend conditions but the ultimate decision about whether the project can proceed will be made by just three Ministers. Notably, the Ministers for Environment and for Conservation are shut out of this decision-making process. In addition, those three Ministers can override the Expert Panels and choose to ignore their advice. 

This level of Ministerial power is excessive, anti-democratic as well as anti-environmental. These are far-reaching, sweeping powers that no Ministers should hold. It goes significantly beyond the powers that Ministers held for fast-track during the COVID emergency. This sets a dangerous precedent about Ministerial decision-making and authority that stretches beyond the environmental sphere.  

This legislation needs to change to protect our environment and safeguard our democracy. There are a number of steps that you should take as a matter of urgency: 

First, you have confirmed that Ministers have been lobbied by special interests who wish to have their projects included in the lists that will be part of fast-track. New Zealanders deserve to see what is being proposed and who is proposing it. You have listened to these special interests. Now it is New Zealanders’ turn. People should have their voices heard by the select committee. They should be able to say what they think about the projects in their communities that will be put through the environmental override process. We are calling on you to publish the proposed and requested projects as a matter of urgency, well prior to the close of submissions, along with who is requesting them.   

Second, you have said that you have nothing to hide, and that lobbying is part of a democratic process. Transparency is also part of this same democratic process. We are calling on you to proactively release the communications that you and Ministers Jones and Brown, have received from developers asking for projects to go through the process contained within the Bill.   

Finally, as Government you have talked about the importance of science and evidence-based decision making. In fact, it is a key element of your coalition agreement. A critical bottom-line for any fast-track regime (and indeed what is currently in place) is that the Expert Panels, not Ministers, make the decision on whether or not projects are consented against robust criteria. Further, the criteria by which the Panel makes their decision must allow proper consideration of effects on the environment, and not be required to prioritise the provision of infrastructure and development. There is nothing to be afraid of here. This is about trusting your own Expert Panel to assess projects on their merits and determine whether or not they should be consented. Consents will be granted if projects can be properly managed without causing undue harm to the environment. Ministers are not experts – and good leadership makes good decisions based on good evidence.   

It’s not too late to change this Bill so it protects the environment, upholds our democratic principles, and supports a strong future economy for all New Zealanders. Forest & Bird has previously accepted fast-track legislation and remains open to doing so. There is an existing fast-track law that you can use.  But let me be clear - the current Bill is anti-nature and anti-democratic. As such, Forest & Bird will be asking New Zealanders to join with us in fighting it all the way. 

Yours sincerely,

Nicola Toki 
Chief Executive
Forest & Bird 

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