Hansard and Journals
Environmental Protection Authority Bill — Second Reading
[Sitting date: 07 April 2011. Volume:671;Page:17862. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Environmental Protection Authority Bill
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : I move, That the Environmental Protection Authority Bill be now read a second time. The establishment of the Environmental Protection Authority marks an exciting new era in the environmental management of our country. New Zealand deserves no less than a world-class regulatory system that reflects our environmental values in conjunction with our economic interests. We need to be smarter in developing ways to grow our economy while lifting our environmental management. The Environmental Protection Authority, which this bill establishes, will do just that.
I acknowledge the Local Government and Environment Committee, and particularly its chair, Chris Auchinvole, for the hard work and scrutiny that has gone on with this bill. I am pleased to note that the committee has recommended that this bill be passed, and I signal now that the Government will be supporting the amendments that the committee has recommended; they are improvements to the bill. These amendments will transfer to the Environmental Protection Authority the permitting and enforcement functions, under the Ozone Layer Protection Act and the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Act, that are currently administered by the Ministry of Economic Development. These functions relate to New Zealand’s international obligations under a number of conventions and protocols for both the protection of the ozone layer and the management and transboundary transport of hazardous wastes and chemicals. It makes good sense for these functions to be moved to the Environmental Protection Authority, as they align well with the authority’s new role in undertaking the functions of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
I also thank all members and submitters who took the time to offer their analysis and opinion of this bill. I am pleased that out of the 38 submissions received, a vast majority supported the establishment of the Environmental Protection Authority, albeit at times there were differing views on the exact form and function that the new authority should take. Some submitters wanted the Environmental Protection Authority to undertake a wider range of environmental functions not provided for in this bill. I say to them, as the Government has already demonstrated, that the building of the Environmental Protection Authority is an iterative process. For example, we have already had a transitional Environmental Protection Authority in place, handling proposals of national significance under the national consenting regime that was established as part of the first phase of the Government’s Resource Management Act reforms.
This is not the end of the journey. The Environmental Protection Authority we are establishing today has been designed to be as flexible as possible, to receive extra functions and responsibilities. For example, it is my widely stated intention that the Environmental Protection Authority should be responsible for permitting functions under the proposed exclusive economic zone legislation that I hope to bring to this House before the end of this year. In future the Environmental Protection Authority may look more like what some submitters envisaged, but for today the Government is confident that the functions and powers we are bestowing on this new authority are a good starting point.
On the flip side of my last point, I know that some members of the committee expressed concern about the Environmental Protection Authority’s ability to adopt new functions, and in particular questioned under whose authority that would occur. I am pleased that the committee has clarified this process, in that substantive new functions will be able to be added to the Environmental Protection Authority only upon the scrutiny and agreement of this House through legislation. Although it is the Government’s intention that the Environmental Protection Authority be designed to remain flexible enough to adopt new functions, it was not our intention that the new authority should assume those functions simply by ministerial fiat.
I also take the opportunity to address the criticism by some that the protection element of the Environmental Protection Authority is not explicit enough in the purpose of the Act. I find this accusation perplexing, as all pieces of legislation that sit behind the Environmental Protection Authority have the protection of the environment at their core. For example, the hazardous substances and new organisms legislation, which the Environmental Protection Authority will now be responsible for, has as its core purpose the protection of the environment and the health and safety of people. The Resource Management Act’s purpose is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources; sustainability is defined in the Act as the use, development, and protection of our natural and physical resources. The purpose of the Climate Change Response Act is to reduce dangerous levels of climate change greenhouse gases, thus protecting people and the environment.
Some also allege that the Environmental Protection Authority is running contrary to the protection of the environment in its role in administering consents for projects of national significance. Yet I would ask how it is expected that some of our smaller and least resourced councils are able to decide on quite complex, nationally significant resource consents, and whether that, in fact, promotes better protection of the environment. The Environmental Protection Authority and the board of inquiry process bring the technically robust expertise needed to scrutinise and pass judgment on the environmental impacts of these proposals. This process ensures more robust decision-making, which can only mean better environmental outcomes for New Zealand. The requirement that a decision must be reached in 9 months brings certainty to investment, and to those communities that are potentially impacted by a project. I contrast, for instance, the 15-year-long battle over the Wellington Inner City Bypass and the 12-year-long fiasco over the Whangamata Marina against the 8 months it has taken the provisional Environmental Protection Authority to hear, to consider, and to issue a decision on the Tauhara geothermal project.
This Government’s blue-green vision for New Zealand promotes the effective management of resources, supported by efficient and effective environmental regulation. This bill does just that by establishing a new Environmental Protection Authority as a one-stop shop for environmental regulatory functions: consenting, monitoring, and providing technical advice. The Environmental Protection Authority will provide the national leadership that has been missing in the administration of the environment, as well as the greater central government direction. This bill is a balanced environmental approach. It reinforces the importance of good scientific and technical skills to effective environmental regulation; it recognises the importance of efficient environmental regulation to our economy. The creation of the stand-alone Environmental Protection Authority marks a major milestone in this Government’s progressive environmental reforms, and I commend the bill to the House.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : Labour voted for the first reading of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill, to send it to the Local Government and Environment Committee so we could hear public submissions and expert evidence on its provisions. We had reservations at that point, which I expressed in my first reading speech, but we thought it was appropriate to hear what the public had to say. One of the major concerns we have had about the functioning of the interim Environmental Protection Authority is that it has been not an environmental protection agency, but a national development agency. So far, it has been pretty much an understaffed office in the Ministry for the Environment, already being used to fast track controversial projects. The Minister for the Environment talked about extreme examples under the previous law, and somehow thinks that this justifies the new 9-month fast-track process, even though we are hearing extraordinary reports of enormous legal bills, consulting bills, and major inconvenience accruing to parties and submitters under the 9-month rushed process—one bite at the cherry. [Interruption] I know that members opposite, Mr Auchinvole and Mr Quinn, think public consultation is overrated, but members on this side of the House think it is important to hear what the public have to say. I will develop those comments further.
We have already seen the fast tracking of the Waterview Connection and the time frames for submissions on that project being far too short. That is despite protests from the Eden Albert Community Board and the Auckland Council, asking for an extension of deadlines. But never mind, there is a pretty poor track record on local democracy on the other side of the House, and we know that what community boards and city councils think does not matter too much to people.
Amy Adams: So we just fix it. We just get on and get it fixed.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: As Ms Adams said, they just want to get on with it. They know best. They do not really care what local communities say. They just think they can hurry things through in 9 months. The reality is that that is not acceptable to local communities. They need a say, and they want a say, on what goes on in their communities. That is a right we will ensure is restored to them, when we have the opportunity.
The concern we had around the “trust me” approach being asked for by the Minister is that members opposite have a bad track record on the environment. We look at the extension of the deadline for the national environmental standards for air quality to 2018, ignoring warnings that doing so puts people’s lives at risk—
Chris Tremain: Where did emissions go under that Government?
CHARLES CHAUVEL: —I say to Mr Tremain. Never mind about all the Kiwis who will die as a result of having to breathe poor air; we should just ram things through again and not worry about the cost! That is a summary of the record of those members.
There is the watering down of the emissions trading scheme, adding billions of dollars to the taxpayers’ bill for New Zealand’s carbon emissions, and letting off polluters just because they are polluters and they can pollute. Then, of course, there is the proposal to open up the national parks to mining, which was stopped only due to a major outcry from people. There is the abolition of the democratically elected Canterbury Regional Council just so more intensive dairying could be allowed, through giving dairy farms more water; the complete sabotage of biofuels policy; and the repeal of the restriction on new baseload fossil-fuelled thermal electricity generation. I see the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources is in the House. It was good she conceded in question time the other day—notwithstanding she was trying to claim credit for a whole lot of new renewable energy generation—that fully four-fifths of that generation had been consented on under the previous Labour Government. Then there is the disastrous revision of the New Zealand Energy Strategy, which was leaked the other day. The draft already released is short on action and has a strong focus on coal and petroleum development, which shifts environmental concerns like carbon emissions to the bottom of priorities, giving the lie to the claims that were made in the Minister for the Environment’s initial remarks that this Government prioritises the environment and our environmental values but somehow balances them with the economy. That energy strategy speaks volumes to that claim, and I hope many, many New Zealanders will read it and see the truth about what this Government’s record actually is in this area.
There is also the refusal to put in place a standard for smart meters. Instead of putting in place an incentive for consumers to be able to control their energy use in their home and in their business, there is confusion and a lack of leadership from the Government in this important area. The vehicle fuel economy standard has been scrapped by National, simply because it thinks the standard would just lead to an increase in cost for new vehicles. Then, of course, there is the phasing out of the old inefficient, incandescent light bulbs using 75 percent more electricity than the new efficient eco-bulbs.
Hon Steven Joyce: Ah, the old light bulb control.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: Mr Joyce scoffs about it. I can see Mr Joyce’s favourite phrase forming on his foaming lips at the moment: nanny State. It is all about control, wanting to tell New Zealanders what to do. But he is conveniently ignoring the fact that China—that bastion of freedom of enterprise and democracy—will very quickly surpass New Zealand as far as energy policy is concerned. We will not be able to buy non - energy-efficient bulbs anywhere, I say to Mr Joyce, because the major manufacturer of them, China, will not make them any more because they are so dirty. But, never mind. That member should tell people what he thinks they want to hear and they will re-elect him! That is clearly the theory. Unfortunately, on environmental matters I think New Zealanders are too smart for that.
At the Local Government and Environment Committee, the concerns we had initially about the content of the bill were actually reinforced by public submissions. We have heard a pretty vanilla version of what happened at the select committee from the Minister; clearly he has asked his—
Dr Cam Calder: Is it Milli Vanilli?
CHARLES CHAUVEL: It may be Milli Vanilli, actually, I say to Mr Calder, but that is an artist more from his generation than mine. I will leave him to tell the House more about that. Of course, Milli Vanilli was a great lip-syncer, I understand. No doubt we will hear more speeches from members opposite! Mr Auchinvole and others will lip-sync to the Minister’s tune, read out the departmental notes, and spin the lines around what they say is great for the environment and the economy under National. As I say, voters are more discerning than that and they know better.
The concerns about the Environmental Protection Authority are fourfold. I know that National members do not like to listen to the facts, but here they are. First of all, the Environmental Protection Authority will not provide sectoral leadership. I know it was the Minister’s desire that it should. I know he was well motivated about this. But the reality is that he has been rolled. All it does is to get fast tracking for major projects up and running, and all it does is to cobble together some functions from existing Acts. The climate change legislation registry, the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s old functions under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and a few functions under the Resource Management Act under the fast-tracking process—that is all the Environmental Protection Authority gets to do, apart from those functions mentioned by the Minister: the ozone protection and the other functions. But what about the exclusive economic zone regulation that was so vaunted by the Minister? What about our Antarctic obligations? What about administering under the waste minimisation scheme all those product stewardship schemes that ought to have been brought into force by this Government but have not been so far?
The first problem with the Environmental Protection Authority is that it will just not be a strong sectoral leader. It will fail at the first hurdle, because its legislation is weak and it does not have enough functions. The second problem is that its objectives are not fit for purpose. Nothing in the Act actually tells the Environmental Protection Authority it has to protect the environment. Well, how is that for setting up an entity for failure at the first hurdle? Then there is the lack of any independence from the Minister. Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, the functions of the Environmental Protection Authority come closer to the Crown, not more distant from it. Well, I do not know about other members, but I do not think I want this Minister deciding matters under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act; some might say that was actually a conflict of interest for him.
Finally, there is the issue of obligations to Māori. There is no Treaty clause in this legislation, yet there is one in every other environmental and conservation Act in this country. What sort of signal does that send about the obligations of the Environmental Protection Authority to deal with the perspectives of iwi? I want to see the Māori Party take a stand on this. Why this omission? This is a major missed opportunity for the environment. The blue-green agenda is bankrupt and the Environmental Protection Authority is not a body we can support.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) : I rise to support the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. This bill is an important part of the Government’s programme, and it is actually an important part of the parliamentary programme. I find it a little disconcerting to have heard only criticism from Charles Chauvel, my parliamentary colleague from the other side of the House—but more of that later. This legislation formed part of our environmental policy at the 2008 election. The public has now come to expect from their National-led Government that it will follow through on its policies, and this is another case of our doing exactly that, and doing it proudly.
This measure follows on—
Hon Damien O’Connor: What about GST?
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: That member who has just called out from the back of the other side of the Chamber should be careful, because he gets so many things wrong that he is starting to become a legend. This measure follows on from the first stage of the Resource Management Act reforms, which were passed, and it is really an important part of the process of ensuring that our need for economic growth is carefully balanced with environmental concerns. I draw to the attention of Charles Chauvel the mission statement: “environmental stewardship for a prosperous New Zealand”. That is for the Ministry for the Environment, which has a balanced approach. A balanced approach?
Amy Adams: A balanced approach.
Dr Cam Calder: Yes, balanced.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: Balanced—I thank my colleagues. We talk about balance; we know that it is not a popular word with members on the other side of the House. But I believe, and National believes, that we must achieve the right balance. Part of achieving that balance is ensuring we have strong environmental management at central government level. That is what the Environmental Protection Authority will give us.
My involvement with this bill has been as the chair of the Local Government and Environment Committee. I thank colleagues who are part of that committee for the work they put into the bill, and for the constructive debates and discussions we had. I just point out that we appreciate that the Labour members, in particular, have been going through difficult times, and that it has been difficult to provide continuity at meetings. Had they been able to do so, Mr Chauvel might not have concentrated just on written submissions, because he would have been party to some of the discussion that occurred when we met people at the time, and I think he would have been a little more reassured by that process.
I also thank the officials from the Ministry for the Environment and the Environmental Risk Management Authority for their assistance and advice, and for the work they did and provided us with. Indeed, as a committee we went across to the Ministry for the Environment this very day, today, and had a splendid illustration—I think my colleagues would agree with me—of the ministry’s commitment to balance and to its work. It was very, very impressive, and I commend them.
Dr Cam Calder: Inspiring.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: It was inspired leadership.
I will focus, though, on what Opposition members have been saying about this bill when they have spoken about it. I participated in a debate last Wednesday on the various parties’ approaches to the Resource Management Act. Labour was represented by Charles Chauvel, and I listened to what he had to say about the Environmental Protection Authority. He expressed general support for the idea of having an agency of this nature at central government level, but he seemed to be frantically scrambling around for something to disagree with. That was what he was doing again today; he was looking, searching, desperate to find something he could disagree with—
Dr Cam Calder: He could refer to 1980s pop songs.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: Indeed. One of the main criticisms he raised was that the bill does not contain a sentence that explicitly requires the Environmental Protection Authority to protect the environment.
Amy Adams: Isn’t that supposed to be the objective?
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: Indeed. That just shows how desperate Labour is to try to gain traction on something—to find something to criticise. We are dealing in this bill with policy and practicality, not cloud nine ideology. As the member knows, every bit of legislation that sits behind the Environmental Protection Authority is about protecting the environment. Protecting the environment is at the core of this bill. Protecting the environment is what this bill does, and what every piece of legislation does that the Environmental Protection Authority is built on.
Labour then says the bill is not clear about the need for the Environmental Protection Authority to take Māori perspectives into account in decision making. I find that to be a real example of the fact that Labour members did not come to select committee meetings and hear what was said, because the Environmental Protection Authority, like the Environmental Risk Management Authority before it, will have an independent board and a Māori advisory board. Like the Environmental Protection Authority itself, the Māori advisory board will be at arm’s length from the Minister. From the submissions we received, we know that the board is regarded as a very good form of inclusion for independent Māori representation.
This is a good bill. It is the fulfilment of yet another election promise. It strengthens New Zealand’s environmental management. The Environmental Protection Authority will be a strong, independent authority that will bring a strong national direction to environmental decision-making, and, most important, it will have the protection of the environment at its core. Thank you.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) : As my colleague Charles Chauvel has pointed out, Labour voted for the Environmental Protection Authority Bill at the first reading. We considered it to be, on the face of it, an important initiative, an important development in the Government’s legislation programme. But we are bitterly disappointed with the bill that has come back to this House. We genuinely hoped that the submissions process and select committee scrutiny would strengthen this bill, and would give the new Environmental Protection Authority the tools and the standing it needs to do the job it is supposed to do, but New Zealand has been sadly let down.
There is a “truth in advertising” problem at the heart of this bill. It claims to establish an Environmental Protection Authority, but, as my colleague has pointed out, it is an Environmental Protection Authority only in name.
Labour has four key concerns about the authority. The first is that the functions of the authority are far too narrow. It is incapable, under this bill, of providing any strong leadership in environment matters. All it really gets to do under the bill is to manage the fast tracking of consents for major projects and a few other bits and pieces: the registry functions of the climate change response legislation, and the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s old role under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
A whole lot of things are missing from the bill that submitters came along to the Local Government and Environment Committee and said should logically be in the bill. We agree with those submissions—for example, coastal and marine management and environmental management under the exclusive economic zone, the administration of our Antarctic obligations, the administration of an environmental enhancement fund generated by fines issued by district and regional councils, the Waste Minimisation Act, and numerous other functions under the Resource Management Act.
The second objection we have to the bill is that the objectives are plainly inadequate. They do not even expressly require the authority to protect the environment. Instead, as the bill is currently worded, the objective of the authority is to “undertake its functions in a way that—(a) contributes to the efficient, effective, and transparent management of New Zealand’s environment and natural and physical resources; and (b) enables New Zealand to meet its international obligations.”
Something is missing from the bill. Let us play a game of Where’s Wally?. Let us look for where in the bill we can find any kind of mandate to protect the environment. If we were to play the game, we would be playing it for a very long time. We have looked in the bill, and it is not evident to us that protection of the environment is what the authority is all about.
The third objection we have is that the structure, mandate, and authority of the authority is so weak that it is not sufficiently independent from the Minister to give it the strength and integrity it would need if it had the real job of protecting the environment. If we look at the hazardous substances and new organisms role it will inherit from the Environmental Risk Management Authority, we see that the authority will have less independence from the Minister than the Environmental Risk Management Authority currently has in its administration of those tasks. That is a real concern. If the Government seriously believed in stewardship of New Zealand’s natural environment for the sake of future generations, then it would have beefed up the provisions in the bill and given the authority the independence and integrity to do the role free from potential political interference.
The fourth concern we have is that the bill is very confusing about the authority’s obligation to take into account in its decision making its responsibilities to tangata whenua and Māori perspectives. Frankly, we are surprised that the Māori Party has not clearly insisted on the insertion of a Treaty clause. All other major environment and conservation legislation today has a Treaty clause that requires the administrators of the legislation to take into account Treaty obligations. Such a clause is not in the bill. That sends a very confusing message.
When we introduced the Ministry for the Environment in 1986, the intent of that move and of all the changes we have seen in the intervening period, was to integrate environmental sustainability into the heart of policy making in this country so that it sits alongside social and economic objectives and operates in a complementary way, not in a competitive way. We have seen from the Government over the last 2 years, and we see in this bill, a perspective that sees economic and environmental objectives as competing interests to be balanced or set off against each other. It is simply irresponsible to see the objectives as being separate; they are inextricably bound up together. Unless they are taken in an integrated way, policy making in this country will never adequately protect the environment and our prosperity. When the objectives are set off against each other and seen as separate and competing, we instead see the kinds of policy failures that Charles Chauvel outlined in his speech—a litany of missteps and mishaps by the Government on environmental and conservation policy over the last 2 years.
I will come back to the functions of the authority and comment in a little more detail about the other things that should have been in the bill, such as the administration of the Waste Minimisation Act, numerous Resource Management Act functions, coastal and marine management, and an environmental enhancement fund. We agree that those things would have amounted to a much more logical and substantial work programme for the authority. Instead, we see piecemeal transfers of jurisdiction from existing bodies. The bill will be a legislative dog’s breakfast for future policy makers and administrators, let alone the public, in trying to come to terms with the effect of this now interlinked legislation. The Climate Change Response Act, the Resource Management Act, and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act all have to be read in conjunction with the new Environmental Protection Authority legislation. That is not the way we should be making laws in this country.
In addition, we have raised concerns—and the Minister for the Environment has attempted to address them—about the way future functions will be transferred to the authority. We are uneasy with what is set out in the bill, because it does not contain a brightline test that we can be confident will distinguish between ancillary and substantive functions. We fear that the Minister of the day will make a determination according to political judgment about which new functions should or should not be transferred to the Environmental Protection Authority. That is a real weakness in the bill.
These flaws are so fundamental that we worry that it will be impossible for the new authority to survive as a credible institution charged with managing and protecting the environment for New Zealanders. This is a classic case of legislation that should have waited for the Minister to do his work to put the building blocks in place, and to put in place a new regime that was logical, credible, and substantive. Instead, we see a new institution that is insubstantial. There are question marks about its integrity and whether it can, in fact, carry out the role it has been given. The worry is that it will be stillborn.
There has been some comment already about the fact that the authority’s objective does not adequately set out the role of environmental protection, and I know that my colleagues will have further comments to make about that fact. Thank you.
SUE KEDGLEY (Green) : George Orwell, when he wrote his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, coined what he called the language of newspeak or double-speak. It was a language that made the bad seem good and the inappropriate seem appropriate. So it was really a language where one pretended that one was doing something wonderful, when one was actually doing something to sabotage things. This double-speak would apply extraordinarily well here. In fact, the whole Environmental Protection Authority Bill is a classic example of George Orwell’s double-speak. We can see from the title that we will have an Environmental Protection Agency. How fantastic!
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Authority.
SUE KEDGLEY: I am sorry; the bill is called the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. Wonderful! But when we flick through the bill to find the objectives, we see that there is no objective to protect the environment. It is all about the efficient and effective management of the New Zealand environment. That is a code, as Charles said, for saying: “Let us give an agency powers to ram through, to fast track, projects—controversial projects—so we do not have to have long, prolonged battles, as the Minister for the Environment said. He cited various prolonged battles we had had—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The Wellington city bypass.
SUE KEDGLEY: —like the Wellington city bypass. He said he wanted to be able to ram these through in a short period of time.
No one should be deceived about what the Environmental Protection Authority Bill is about. There are two reasons alone, I believe, why the Government is getting rid of the Environmental Risk Management Authority and setting up this authority. The first is that it wants to remove the autonomy the Environmental Risk Management Authority has. It has a degree of autonomy and the Government wanted, instead, to set up an agency that lacked autonomy—one the Government could give directions to. That is what the bill does. It states that the Environmental Protection Authority must give effect to Government policy when directed by the responsible Minister.
In other words, the legislation will enable the Environmental Protection Authority to act as a rubber stamp for the Government. The Government was annoyed that Environmental Risk Management Authority had a degree of autonomy, a degree of independence, which prevented the Government from giving it directions. So that is the first purpose of this bill.
The second purpose is, as Charles Chauvel said, effectively to turn it into a national development agency to enable it to fast track controversial projects. The project it is most keen to fast track and is doing so at the moment, ramming through—
Chris Auchinvole: Ramming?
SUE KEDGLEY: Yes. I am talking about the so-called roads of national significance—the motorways all around New Zealand. We are spending $2 billion on motorways at the very time when oil prices are escalating. The Government is raiding the transport budgets for walking, public transport, and so on to build motorways around New Zealand. It was worried it would face opposition, and it needed a mechanism to ram through these projects like a great big juggernaut.
It was interesting that just a few nights ago in Hātaitai there was a public meeting to discuss the fact that part of the huge, great motorway coming from Levin right through to the airport will be a four-lane motorway dividing the lovely suburb of Hātaitai. I can tell members that when the residents of Hātaitai realised that the Government’s plan—which will, finally, be released in May—is to have a big motorway through their community, they were horrified. People from Kapiti were at the meeting, and they said that that road, that motorway, imposed on the community and has devastated the community.
The Minister has come up with this particular motorway. He consulted the residents. They came up with an alternative, he completely ignored it, and now there is a great big juggernaut ramming this road through Kapiti and causing chaos. But the problem is that under the new authority the Government will have the powers to fast track projects—and that is what this bill is all about. It is about enabling the Government to get its bulldozer through, unimpeded by local communities that are implacably opposed to the Government’s plans.
No one should be under any illusion. This bill has two purposes: to erode the independence of the Environmental Risk Management Authority and to ensure that this so-called Environmental Protection Authority will be a rubber stamp for the Government. The Government will be able to give directions, and the agency will have to give effect to Government policy when directed by the responsible Minister. The Government will then be able to fast track controversial projects.
I notice that one of the things being transferred to the new authority is the Ozone Layer Protection Act, and we can only hope that the authority, with its very, very limited powers, will be able to do a slightly better job than the Ministry for the Environment in terms of protecting the ozone layer. This is another sort of Orwellian example. In 1987 New Zealand signed the Montreal Protocol. We pledged solemnly that we would refrain from using methyl bromide and that we would use non - ozone depleting technologies wherever possible. Since we signed the protocol our usage of methyl bromide, the most ozone-depleting substance that humans have ever invented, has increased by more than 500 percent. In 2009 we used 271 tonnes of methyl bromide and we destroyed 136 tonnes of ozone. I repeat: 136 tonnes of ozone.
So we signed the Montreal Protocol, we made these wonderful pledges, and then we proceeded to increase our use of methyl bromide steadily, and we do not—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Tell the full story.
SUE KEDGLEY: We have alternatives. We have recapture technology that we could be using, but, no, the Government—the Environmental Risk Management Authority in this case—has not required us to use recapture technology. Instead, for another 10 years, we will be allowed to release the most ozone-depleting gas that humans have ever invented in this primitive way, directly into the atmosphere. We will be able to continue to use our atmosphere as a sewer, and this is all in the name of implementing our solemn pledges under the Ozone Layer Protection Act.
So we can only hope that when these functions are transferred to the Environmental Protection Authority it will be slightly more effective than the ministry, but we know that it will not be, because the objectives of the authority are to be just the efficient and effective management of New Zealand’s environment. That is a code for enabling the Government to fast track large projects such as building motorways around New Zealand.
The authority has no objective to protect the environment, and, of course, it will be totally hamstrung because it will be required to give effect to Government policy. The authority will be under the direction of the Minister. It will be required to be a rubber stamp of the Minister. The Environmental Risk Management Authority had a degree of autonomy, and that enabled the authority to try to be something of an independent protector of the environment. But this bill, unfortunately, makes the new authority just a rubber stamp for the Government.
New Zealanders should be under no illusion: this is an Orwellian piece of legislation. It will not, unfortunately, protect the environment. We will not have, as the Minister said, a world-class environmental system, although we wish that were the case. We will be opposing the bill for that reason, and because it gives the authority such limited powers, such limited objectives, and no autonomy.
Dr CAM CALDER (National) : It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on the second reading of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. The bill establishes the Environmental Protection Authority as a stand-alone Crown agent to perform environmental regulatory functions. The bill is an omnibus bill. It amends the Climate Change Response Act, Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and Resource Management Act.
We have heard some concerns from members on the other side of the House, which, I can say, having served on the Local Government and Environment Committee, were not reflected in a lot of the submissions we received. In fact, it is remarkable that of the 38 submissions, a total of 25 were in broad support of the intent of the bill. Twenty-five submissions were in broad support of the bill. Some of them made suggestions for amendments, which we have taken on board.
What are we aiming to do with the bill? The Environmental Protection Authority will be a strong, independent, regulatory authority that will ensure the protection of our environment at a national level. The authority will bring together a wide range of regulatory functions and provide a strong national direction to the environmental roles of regional and district councils. Immediately, we are giving an element of certainty.
Once again, the Government believes in keeping its promises, and the bill is a reflection of our efforts to lift our economy and cut the red tape that grew like a noxious weed through the regulatory framework of New Zealand under the last administration. The stand-alone Environmental Protection Authority will strengthen New Zealand’s environment management. It will be a one-stop shop for environmental regulatory functions.
We have heard some concerns about the authority’s independence. Let me just try to put some of those concerns to rest and to allay some of the concerns expressed. The majority of the authority’s decision-making powers will be under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. Currently, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act restricts the power of the Minister for the Environment to direct the Environmental Risk Management Authority to give effect to Government policy when making decisions under the Act. The bill maintains that restriction. Therefore, the autonomy of decision making under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act is preserved.
With regard to the Resource Management Act, decisions on proposals of national significance will continue to be made by boards of inquiry and the Environment Court, which are both independent bodies. The authority’s only decision-making power under the Resource Management Act will be for certificates of compliance related to proposals of national significance. As with decision making under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, the bill prohibits the Minister from directing the authority to give effect to Government policy when making decisions on certificates of compliance. That is an important point to stress.
There will be more effective, efficient, and transparent management of regulation around New Zealand’s environment and natural physical resources. As I say, the bill brings together under one roof the regulatory functions that are currently administered by the Ministry for the Environment. We heard from a previous speaker, the very able chairman of the Local Government and Environment Committee, Mr Chris Auchinvole, that the raison ďêtre—the mission statement—of the Ministry for the Environment is “environmental stewardship for a prosperous New Zealand”. The bill will also bring in functions that are currently administered by the Ministry of Economic Development and the Environmental Risk Management Authority. I commend the bill to the House.
STUART NASH (Labour) : I find it quite interesting that the previous speaker, Dr Cam Calder, was on the Local Government and Environment Committee, which heard all the submissions, that he proposes to be passionate about the Environmental Protection Authority Bill, that he represents the Government, and that he has an interest in this bill, yet he stands up and speaks for only about 5 minutes on what is reasonably important legislation. I wonder whether that is because he simply has no plan, has no idea how the bill actually works, and does not have an understanding of what the bill is about.
I would have thought that Dr Calder he had an idea of what the bill was about—and this is reasonably controversial legislation—he would stand up for the 10 minutes, which is not long, to try to sell it to the people of New Zealand. He would have put his best foot forward and explained why the Government is putting this legislation through. But he did not. He either did not or he could not. I suspect his senior whip said to him: “Dr Calder, you need to stick on this for 10 minutes, because we’re getting a lot of rubbish and a lot of bad emails about this bill. You need to sell this.” So he said to the senior whip that he would do that. He stood up and after 5 minutes he realised that he could not sell the bill, because it is not saleable. He asked himself what he would do. So instead of trying to sell the bill, he commended the bill to the House and sat down. After 5 minutes, he could not even sell it.
In 10 minutes I will attempt to outline the major concerns that Labour has about this bill. If I had been given 20 minutes—although unfortunately I was not given that amount of time—I would have used the full 20 minutes to outline the concerns. If I had been given the full 2 hours, then that would not have been long enough to outline the concerns that Labour has about this legislation. The main reason is that we care about the environment. We understand what New Zealand’s competitive advantage is about. We understand where New Zealand’s competitive advantage lies.
Labour did vote for this bill in the first reading. Do members know why? Because we support democracy. The reason was that we wanted to know what the people of New Zealand thought about it. We needed to know what the experts thought about it, where they saw problems, and how they saw the legislation playing out. We wanted to get their ideas. So we supported it to go to the select committee, because that is where the robust debate happens. After hearing all the submitters, we knew that it was the wrong legislation. It is the wrong legislation for New Zealand.
But I must admit that when we did support this legislation, we had major reservations, which were played out. We were concerned that the Minister for the Environment would use the Environmental Protection Authority as a mechanism for fast tracking controversial projects through in an undemocratic way, without adequate consultation. Well, I will tell members what happened: the Government floated the idea of mining the national parks without consultation. But 40,000 Kiwis decided to have some form of consultation, and what did they do? Without any sort of advertising, they marched up Queen Street and told the National Government: “How dare you even consider mining schedule 4 land?”. Those people understand where New Zealand’s competitive advantage lies. They know that New Zealand’s competitive advantage lies in our pristine environment and in a regulatory framework that makes sure that the environment is protected. This bill does not do that. Labour’s concerns were reinforced at the select committee and we decided to oppose this bill.
I tell members that when it comes to policy and when it comes to vision, there will be only one party that the people of New Zealand will listen to. The party over there does not have a vision and it does not have a policy. It has legislation that will fast track economic policy like mining national parks.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just tell us your policy.
STUART NASH: The Minister for the Environment asks what our policy is. Well, I can tell him what our policy is not: it is not to mine national parks. I can tell the people of New Zealand, and I say this to the Greens and to anyone who will listen, that Labour will not mine schedule 4 land. Labour will not have a Minister for Economic Development who stands up in this House and says we need to mine our national parks. That is what we will not do.
Further to that, we will not have an agency in place that is not answerable to the people but only to the Minister, because we know that when it comes to this sort of stuff, the people of New Zealand demand the right to be consulted. The functions of the Environmental Protection Authority are too narrow. They are just too narrow. The authority will not provide the environmental sector with any sort of leadership. Do members know why I am right? Because the Minister is trying too hard to defend this legislation. He knows that it is wrong.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: He’s a lawyer.
STUART NASH: He is an environmental engineer, I think. In fact, I think the Minister may even have a doctorate in environmental engineering. We should look at how far he has come in terms of protecting the environment. The Minister lives in a pristine area. It is one of the nicest places in the country outside Hawke’s Bay, yet he is sponsoring a bill that could potentially destroy that. There is only one thing that the people of Nelson will tell him: “Thank you, Dr Smith, but no thanks.” I predict that Maryan Street will be the next MP for that area. I predict that that will happen.
The Environmental Protection Authority’s objectives are inadequate. They are just inadequate. They do not even expressly require the authority to protect the environment. Labour will have a policy where the environment comes first. We are living in the 21st century. This is the 21st century, when “environmental” actually means something, when water quality stands for something, when air quality means something, and when the people of New Zealand demand accountability from Ministers and from the Government, and this bill is taking that away.
Who would believe that the Minister for the Environment would sponsor a bill that does not even expressly require the authority to protect the environment? Instead, as clause 11(1) of the bill is currently worded, the objective of the authority is to undertake its functions in a way that “(a) contributes to the efficient, effective, and transparent management of New Zealand’s environment and national and physical resources; and (b) enables New Zealand to meet its international obligations.” I think that Gerry Brownlee has interpreted “the efficient, effective, and transparent management of New Zealand’s environment” to mean that he can take in diggers and we can dig it up, that we can mine our schedule 4 land, that we can mine our competitive advantage, and that we can send a message to all those around the world that New Zealand just does not care, because we take for granted what the rest of the world requires.
I lived in a city in Japan for a year, and I can tell members that after living in a city like that, one really comes to appreciate the beauty that is this wonderful country. One really comes to understand that New Zealand’s competitive advantage is our countryside, our national parks, our clear water, and our clean air. Yet this bill does nothing to protect our international competitive advantage. It is just another case of the fact that the Government actually has no plan. I have come to the conclusion that the Government, and the Minister for the Environment in particular, has lost touch with reality. The Minister does not understand what New Zealanders want. The Minister does not understand what New Zealanders value, and we know that because this bill does not reflect those values at all.
The authority is not sufficiently independent from the Minister, especially on issues regarding hazardous substances and new organisms. In fact, its independence is reduced. I wonder whether this bill is just another feature to allow the fast tracking of mining in national parks. I think this bill is leading to that. I think that if Nick Smith is in charge of that, then we will see schedule 4 land mined, and there will not even be the chance for the people of New Zealand to march up Queen Street, because before they know it the bulldozers will be there, and that is a disgrace. That is a disgrace, as is this bill. This legislation is confusing. It denies our competitive advantage, and Labour certainly does not support a bill that is out of touch with what the vast majority of New Zealanders want. I will not be supporting this bill, and neither will Labour. Thank you very much.
CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier) : The Environmental Protection Authority Bill takes another step in delivering on a National Party promise to the New Zealand electorate, and it takes another step forward to protect the environment. I want to take a few minutes at the end of this session tonight to reflect on Charles Chauvel’s criticism of National and its environmental record and to compare that with the record of our Labour friends across the House, working together with the Greens.
Let us start with greenhouse gas emissions. Labour came into office in 1999 criticising the Kyoto target as being too modest. It said a 20 percent reduction in emissions was required by 2005. Helen Clark upped the ante further in 2007, when she said New Zealand would be the first carbon-neutral country in the world. Despite the rhetoric, UN figures showed an increase in emissions from 69 million tonnes in 1999 to 77 million tonnes in 2005 alone. That was a 12 percent increase, compared with Labour’s promise of a 20 percent reduction, yet Mr Nash was saying “We care about the environment.” That is absolutely laughable. What is more, despite the rhetoric, it took Labour 8 years to get any climate change legislation through the House. Can members believe that! On the other hand, National immediately put its climate change legislation through the House, and it was passed within National’s first year in Government. Now here we are, with this Environmental Protection Authority, delivering another promise from National within our first term.
Let us look at the planting of trees, because this is really interesting in terms of protecting the environment. The Labour-Green record on forestry planting can be described only as a chainsaw massacre. New Zealand lost 30,000 hectares of trees in Labour’s last 4 years in office—more than in any other period since records began in the 1930s—yet Labour members say they care about the environment. It is a joke. National has implemented clear, definitive policy to turn that round. In 2009 the deforestation stopped and there was a small gain in forest area of 500 hectares. I accept that that is not a lot, but it is certainly going in a much better direction than that where the Labour Government left this country. Foresters indicate there will be increased plantings of 4,700 hectares this year and of a further 5,000-odd hectares next year. That is an upward trend. Again, the Environmental Protection Authority is another step.
Let us look at renewable energy, because that one is a real classic. Despite all the hype about wind power and renewables, New Zealand went consistently backwards with renewable energy for 9 years under a Labour Government, in proportion to electricity generated from renewable sources. In 2007 New Zealand produced less electricity from renewable resources than in any year in our history. It is laughable for members opposite to step up at this time of the night and say they care about the environment. The record is obvious, and here we are implementing another policy, as we promised our electorate, to protect the environment. Thank you.
KELVIN DAVIS (Labour) : First of all I congratulate my colleague Stuart Nash on the eloquence and detail of his speech. I also acknowledge what Sue Kedgley said about double-speak in the Environmental Protection Authority Bill, because the title of this bill is a misnomer. There are no actual guarantees that the environment will be protected.
The other double-speak I would like to raise in the very short time I have is that in the Minister for the Environment’s first reading speech he said this bill is about having an efficient public service where we group like activities together under one roof. That is double-speak for cuts to public services.
- Debate interrupted.