Hansard and Journals

Hansard (debates)

Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill — First Reading

[Sitting date: 29 August 2012. Volume:683;Page:4901. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill

First Reading

CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) : I move, That the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. I nominate that the Local Government and Environment Committee consider the bill. All of us put ourselves forward in this House because of a particular passion, as well as the broad political framework of our own parties. I am here because of a number of issues, including a river and the river people. This bill is about that river, its wildlife, and the river people, who have suffered from its contamination since 1955—a mere 77 years. Thus, the bill’s correct title is the “Black Drain Bill”, and the Parliament of Aotearoa New Zealand created the “black drain:. This bill is a simple amendment to section 107(2)(a) of the Resource Management Act. It puts a 5-year time frame on that section, which permits discoloration and toxic effects from discharges to waterways in exceptional circumstances. We believe the clause should exist, but with a time frame. It has scarcely been used by councils and industries for more than 4 years, and that is as it should be. We support that. However, it is also used in one place to justify one of the longest and most extreme point sources of pollution in our entire country’s history.

In 1954 the Parliament passed the Tasman Pulp and Paper Company Enabling Act. This Act facilitated Sir James Fletcher’s company to use the Tarawera River as the drain next to the Tasman Pulp and Paper mills at Kawerau. Overnight, a sparkling body of water—a whakapapa, a water resource, and a fisheries—was turned black. The enabling Act was the end of farmers’ water supply on that adjacent plain. The Pākehā farmers were given an alternative water supply and the Māori farmers were not. From the outset, those tangata whenua were lied to by Fletcher Challenge, which promised them jobs and a clean river for ever. Neither promise was fulfilled for the blacklisted whānau who dared to stand up to Fletcher Challenge and for the river that turned black. From that day, some staunch tangata whenua stood up and challenged, whether they worked at the mill or not, and many mill workers have stood in this struggle. That upper river, which is a sparkling, beautiful, and dynamic river, was home then, and is home now, to many fish, to many fishers, to recreation, and to people who live alongside it. But the lower river was renamed that day, and still is called the “black drain”. It is still recognised as being compromised for angling and swimming, for food gathering, and for the people’s identity.

The enabling Act was finally repealed, thanks to a campaign led by my partner, environmentalist Gordon Jackman, whose commitment to this issue filled a whole room of our house with written excuses for pollution that we had to address. He even went to university and did a chemistry degree entirely to take on the science of the pulp mills and to support the tangata whenua and local residents, who wanted a simple thing, clean water, and to be able to go and catch a healthy whitebait and to have a job, as well. The river discharges and the air discharges, as well, were then subject to years of debate and campaigning and struggle, until finally it was forced to be heard under the Resource Management Act so that it could be addressed in terms of a consent. Section 107(2)(a) of the Resource Management Act was apparently written partially to keep facilitating the pollution of the Tarawera River as an “exceptional circumstance”, which is the section in my bill that I want time-defined.

On one level, this can be said to be true. It is an exceptional circumstance when both Government and regional government have abrogated their responsibilities to set a fair limit on pollution—a time limit on pollution. It is a breach of article 2 of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and it is up to 150,000 tonnes of pulp mill effluent per day, containing resin acids, which blacken the river, and up to 5 tonnes of organochlorines from the bleaching of that pulp. And, yes, the levels of dioxins have been reduced and the river does not literally foam like it used to up to 3 feet deep, but the invisible contaminants are still in that sediment 77 years later, and the Bay of Plenty is also affected. The effects on trout and native fish, including goldfish, have been shown over years, and they are still alive, but those tuna and those goldfish have been shown to have livers and kidneys that are sick. Like many humans, these species can live in a contaminated environment, but it is not a good living.

Tonight this House could give this bill and this river a chance. We need to hear from the councils and from industry, but most of all we need to hear from the river people about the “black drain” in section 107(2)(a). More than 10 years ago we brought a photographic exhibition to Parliament to show the MPs. We had photographs of the river, we had photographs of the peoples of the river, and we held it down in the bottom foyer, and not a single MP turned up. So here I am, 10 years later, bringing this picture to you today as a positive opportunity to help this river enter the modern world, where cultural and environmental issues and all kinds of relationships with rivers are not trampled on, as if there were no alternatives to clean it up other than to close it down. A select committee could ensure that this bill is both fair and practical.

I want to take my opportunity to pay some respects to the brave ones, to the people of NgātiTūwharetoa, Ngāti Awa, and NgātiRangitihi, who have fought so hard and held the line in the face of section 107(2)(a) without its time limit: to exceptional people like the rangatira, the late Jack Fox, Isobel Fox, and their son Tōmairangi Fox; and to the whānau from Onepū and Kawerau, and the Ngāti Awa people from Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, who have all worked at different levels through different processes over many years. They have not asked for the mill to be closed; they have asked for the effluent to be cleaned up and dealt with appropriately. And many of us have stood with Greenpeace, which brought the Rainbow Warrior at least three times into the Bay of Plenty to say that enough is enough.

I want to pay tribute to the late Bill Marr, to Tiipene Marr, the man who stood on the “black drain” bridge with his taiaha day after day after day, and to all the Marr whānau who have stood up for this issue, and to Mr Reuben Cohen and the mill watch crew, who gave most of the 1980s to this cause. You might think that is a long time ago. Well, it is a long time ago, and that is our disgrace. So we must stand up for the unrecognised people who are not heard in houses of power, who have fought so long and hard to see this change be debated in this House today. We had a slogan then, “Chlorine-Free by 1993”, which is kind of hopeful. We are not there yet, but my even getting to Parliament is a tribute to the fact that the river still inspires us and that we can have a chlorine-free, non-polluting relationship with the environment and, indeed, with paper and pulp production. I also want to acknowledge the last objectors in the last court case so far: Tiipene Marr himself and also David Potter and Andre Paterson from Te Rangatiratanga o NgātiRangitihi Inc.

In 2010 the Environment Court heard an appeal and listened to the so-called experts, who said that 150,000 tonnes of pulp or effluent—including organochlorines, the effects of which have not been properly identified, and concentrated resin acids—pouring into the river was acceptable under section 107(2). But the court also acknowledged that section 107(2) could not be relied upon for ever, and let us make sure that it is not. A 25-year consent was granted in 2010 after the appeal was lost and section 107(2) was relied upon yet again. Of course, employment at the mill is critical, but the excuse that mills must close if required to clean up is not defensible. Pulp mills can carry out pulp and paper bleaching without polluting. They can use oxygen bleaching and they can reuse waste water. It is called closed loop, it is modern pulp and paper production, and it is high time the Bay of Plenty got with that.

I worked in many councils to make sure I would not compromise the emergency overflows and still-water consents, and apart from a couple of historic examples, including one in Tai Rāwhiti, which I was proud to fight every inch of the way and which we eventually won, people are no longer on this clause, except for Environment Bay of Plenty in relation to the Tarawera River. This issue will be a stain on the Bay of Plenty in a very literal way and a stain on the Resource Management Act, so we really need to make this change as soon as possible. Tonight I am asking the House to hear this true story and to give the lower river a chance once that current consent expires. It still gives the pulp mills 22 years to figure it out after 77 years, but it also means that no one else will try to use the law for a permanent and unexceptional dirty discharge. It is time for positive change, and I ask you all to send it to the select committee. Kia ora tātou katoa. Kia kaha, Tarawera!

NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) : I rise to take a call on the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill, a bill in the name of Catherine Delahunty. Thank you, Catherine, for bringing it to the House, and thank you for speaking so passionately about it. The purpose of this bill is to limit the time period for which a discharge permit or coastal permit may be issued to 5 years, and that is when that permit has been issued under exceptional circumstances. I have to say that on face value that seems like a sensible idea and it is attractive.

I had an open mind when I first had a look at this bill, particularly in reflection on what Catherine said about the Tarawera River. But there are actually a variety of good reasons why under section 107(2)(a) the Resource Management Act provides temporary consents, and in some cases—not necessarily in this one, but in some cases—the 5-year limit may actually increase the adverse environmental and economic impacts.

We heard from Catherine about her concerns, about the consent issues for the Kawerau pulp and paper Mills, and about the discharge consent that has been granted and the length of time that is has been granted for, which is another 22 years, I think. I do respect her concerns, and, certainly, we want to clean up our rivers. After listening to the description, and hearing about the people who were so concerned about the river, it sounds like we need to do something about that. In actual fact there has been some improvement, and she certainly also noted that, because when the consent was last renewed it reduced the discharge significantly. The amount of the discharge actually reduces during the time of that consent, so it is a downward spiral. Already the mill is discharging 33 percent less now than the consent actually allows for with that continuous improvement.

I also note that this consent and others sought under this provision have been appealed to the Environment Court. In each case the Environment Court has applied a pretty rigorous test to validate the exceptional circumstances and it has reaffirmed the conditions of the permit issued to minimise environmental effects. This indicates that, in fact, the process is pretty carefully considered and is used only where appropriate. It shows that the section is doing exactly what Parliament envisaged when we wrote the legislation: allowing time to find ways to clean up discharges in the cases of exceptional circumstances.

It is now more than 20 years since the Resource Management Act was introduced, so it is time to look closely at that legislation. National is committed to updating, to streamlining, and to simplifying the legislation, and to making sure that it adequately manages contemporary issues. But I do not actually think that this bill will improve the legislation. Section 107(2)(a), which this bill seeks to amend, is very rarely applied, and there is no evidence, except perhaps in the case of Tarawera, that it has been misused. Section 107(2)(a) affects only a very small number of relevant consents, because “exceptional circumstances” are indeed exceptional. Any change to the law would not affect any of the existing consents—and Catherine Delahunty has actually said that tonight—such as Kawerau, and we do not expect many to be granted under this in the future, either.

So because this section of the Resource Management Act has a very limited use, because when it has been used it has been validated by the Environment Court, because there is very little evidence of abuse of the section, and because it is used in only exceptional circumstances, I am afraid National will not be supporting the bill.

MOANA MACKEY (Labour) : I am happy to take what I think will be a short call on this piece of legislation, the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill. Labour will be supporting the bill’s referral to the Local Government and Environment Committee. I have to be perfectly honest. I am not entirely convinced that the bill is needed, but I do think that there is an issue here that is worthy of investigation.

I think that the particular circumstances of the Tarawera River case provide, actually, a really good case study, where we can have a look and see whether the provisions that are currently in the Resource Management Act for the extension of these permits out to 35 years are adequate, and whether they do provide enough protection for the communities that are concerned about the health of the rivers or waterways involved. I do think this is a very good case study, because Environment Bay of Plenty, the regional council that issued the consent, is a very, very good regional council—a very good regional council with good relationships right through its community. So it is not like we would be looking at a case where there are concerns about the quality of decision making in a regional council. This is one where the council has a strong reputation. For example, the company Tasman Pulp and Paper came and asked for a consent extension of 35 years. The regional council said no, 25 years. It put in place a lot of other conditions including that you could not see the discharge in the river, and a number of other things. So I think it is, actually, a really interesting case study as to whether not having any cap—or not having a 5-year cap, or a 10-year cap, or whatever it might be—is an issue in the law, because this did turn into a very, very messy and emotional issue in the Bay of Plenty. I want to recognise all the work that Catherine and her partner, Gordon, who was my former teacher at school, did on the particular issue.

Certainly, as we know looking back through history, environmental practices have varied greatly over time. We have become far more aware now about the impact of a lot of these industrial processes on our environment, and that is why we have laws like the Resource Management Act in place now, which were not there a long time ago. But certainly with this particular river the practices were very distressing for the community, and what I think needs to be put on the record, of course, is that outside of the resource management process there was a memorandum of understanding that was reached with all the local iwi—not just the iwi that took the court case and failed in that court case—where they actually ended up negotiating a really good outcome, but it took an awful lot of money for the iwi involved, it took an awful lot of pain and anguish getting them there, and it was only because of agitation. Now it is not such a big issue, because Kawerau is really pleased about the jobs that were created by the extension of that mill and the boiler. As I have said, they have been able to negotiate environmental agreements with Tasman Pulp and Paper where they work together on the health of the river. So there is a lot less concern about it in the community now.

But the point to that is that it is great, but it relies on both the company involved coming on board and deciding that it wants to be a partner with the local iwi and the local community, and then being able to negotiate that outcome, and that is not something, of course, that the Resource Management Act can deal with. So I think there is a question. This is a very good case study where we could look at where we have had a good outcome. It might not be in every circumstance and I think there are questions around that. I do not think that a sawmill extending or upgrading its boiler is necessarily an exceptional circumstance. I think that one of the key issues is that this was meant to be used only in really exceptional circumstances. This is the kind of thing that goes on with industry all the time. They upgrade, they change, and they are going to need to alter the terms of their discharge consent approval. Is that really an exceptional circumstance? And I think that is where a lot of the debate comes around.

So, like I said, as far as I am aware, I think this is the only case in which there has been this kind of extension, so it is probably a good time to get in early, before there are any others, and have a look at it. Like I said, I think this will be a really simple matter of getting the regional council and some of the stakeholders in to tell their story. It may be that what is needed is a very simple change. It may be that there is no change needed. But, certainly, having gone through and seen the anguish and the money spent on lawyers in that community, I wonder whether there is not something that could be done. I certainly think that we deserve to give the iwi of the Eastern Bay of Plenty who went through this the opportunity to come and discuss what happened in this case and suggest how they might see things working differently. I do not suspect that it would take up a lot of committee time. As the member has indicated, the Government is bringing along some Resource Management Act reforms anyway. Maybe it could be worked in alongside that, but I do think, actually, the committee would benefit from having a look into this case.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) : I want to make a contribution on this bill, the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill, and to make three points. The first of those is that I am quite uncomfortable with bills in the area of resource management that specifically focus on a single resource issue. I have heard the Green Party and others in this Parliament over the years say that we should be very cautious of passing a bill to simply ride roughshod over process and approve a particular development. Equally so, Parliament should be cautious of passing a law that is specifically designed to do just a particular job on a particular river. We have an Environment Court and very robust processes for that. If we look over the history of resource management in this Parliament, what we have found is that piecemeal legislation—which makes a bit of law for this beach, or a bit for that river, or a bit for that mountain, or a bit for that lake—is actually not where Parliament should be focused. It should be focused on providing really good law, so that we can then consistently deal with good resource management decision-making. I think it is a deficiency in this bill, and in the contribution by the member who introduced it, Catherine Delahunty, that it is gunning in on just the issue of the Tarawera River.

The second point is that the bill does not achieve what the member says it will. The bill says that it is going to put a termination on the “exceptional circumstance” provision in respect of this specific application of the Tasman Pulp and Paper mill and the Tarawera River. The problem is that the Environment Court has granted a 25-year consent. So even if this bill is passed, it is a bit of a nonsense to say that it is going to limit the provision to 5 years, when the bill is targeted to have a go only at this one river—and that consent has got 25 years to go—and there are no provisions in the bill to override that particular consent. So I think that it is a little bit of misrepresentation to say that this puts a 5-year window on it, when it affects only one consent and that consent has got 25 years to run.

The third issue on which I believe the member needs to satisfy Parliament is that she says there is strong local support for the bill. Well, it is my information that the Kawerau District Council, which is the locally elected community representative voice, does not support it. My understanding is that neither does the Bay of Plenty Regional Council support it. Of course, it could have been introduced as a local bill. The Local Government and Environment Committee does consider those when they come through. For the bill to be supported and to claim to have local support, we really would want to know that the Kawerau District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, which are elected with the specific role of representing these community issues, have the same view as what the member presents. Our information is that that is not correct.

You see, there is no disagreement in this Parliament that we need to raise the bar around cleaner rivers throughout New Zealand. But equally so, we need to be asking the question, in a very detailed way, about how that impacts on employment and costs. That is, we need to have a very transparent discussion around, if you are going to set the bar at a particular line and a particular time frame, the impact on employment and the impact on costs.

The other part that worries me is that it is very easy to stand up in this Parliament, whether it comes to issues of climate change—where the Greens have a policy of 40 percent reduction of emissions by 2020, without any admission of what cost that might impose—or whether we want to have clean air or clean water everywhere at a particular time, without being open and upfront with our fellow New Zealanders about what the cost and job implications are of those. In my view, if we are to really have an honest discussion, all those things need to be on the table. My view is that we should be looking at improving the overall framework of the Resource Management Act and not looking at legislation that picks off a single issue in a single area.

  • Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) : How pleased I was that I did not have a split call, having had three or four split calls at 6 o’clock in the last few months. I am pleased to rise on behalf of New Zealand First in support of the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill. We do support this bill. We see merits in it moving through to a select committee. I think there is a serious and significant issue here, which needs to be debated and needs to go before the select committee that I am on, the Local Government and Environment Committee.

New Zealand prides itself on its image of being “100% Pure”. We have a Prime Minister who is the Minister of Tourism, and he is on record as saying how important it is for New Zealand’s image that we do have the “100% Pure” image. We do pride ourselves on what we offer in this country in the South Pacific in terms of our ability to provide a very pure, clean, green environment in New Zealand, and we trade on that logo, we trade on that motto, and we trade on the fact that we do have something quite special to offer to the world. However, New Zealand does have the situation that we must be very mindful of that at times there can be discharges into our waterways, into our coasts, and into our foreshores, and those discharges can be ongoing, they can be serious, and they can be in place for a considerable amount of time. That therefore must, surely, undermine the whole premise of our being “100% Pure”.

It is for this very reason that our member Catherine Delahunty has brought this bill to the House. There have been instances, and we have heard tonight in the House of the instance of the Kawerau river, where discharges have been ongoing for a considerable amount of time, for many, many years, and continuing. They basically need to be brought to a head and need to be sorted out once and for all. There will be other instances very similar to it around New Zealand that should also be addressed. Any member in this House who is not prepared to allow, or any party that is not prepared to allow, this bill at least to go through to the Local Government and Environment Committee for further consideration, to see what are the real issues here, to see what we should be addressing in this country in terms of these discharges, I think is doing a disservice to the environment of New Zealand and doing a disservice to the people of New Zealand.

We in this Parliament are the guardians of the environment, and the guardians of what is good and what is bad in New Zealand. In this respect, where there are perhaps things going on within New Zealand that are not in accordance with what we would wish, whether it is our wish politically, party-wise, or even personally, we should at least have the decency to put the bill through to the select committee to allow it to be fully debated, to allow the public of New Zealand to have input into it, to allow the businesses of New Zealand to have input into it, and to allow a full and frank debate on the issue. If we just brush it under the carpet, and if we do not allow this bill to go forward, and if we do not allow this bill to have some traction and at least see a reasonable amount of light, then, basically, we are turning a blind eye to the “100% Pure” image of New Zealand, and saying we have it but we really actually do not want to own up to some issues that we should be confronting.

I have been involved in a lot of Resource Management Act issues over many, many years through local government. I know what can occur, what is good and what is bad, in terms of the Resource Management Act, and what can occur, in terms of good and bad, in terms of discharges. There are issues around discharges, as we all know. There are situations where discharges are well treated. They are taken care of. Whatever is discharged into whichever waterway, or into the sea, or into our coastline, through our sewerage systems, through our water systems, through our treatment plants—all these sorts of things, which need long-term consents—is fully treated. But where there is a direct discharge into a waterway that is ongoing, that is actually a pollutant, that is bad for the environment, and that is definitely having an adverse effect on our waterways and our coastlines, we should address it. This member’s bill does that. It brings it to the attention of this House, and every party and every member of this House should be supporting it in order to give the environment the benefit of the doubt in this first instance. Thank you.

TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) : As the member of Parliament for Rotorua, the Kawerau river and the mills, which Mrs Delahunty, the mover of this bill, the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill, has mentioned, fall in my electorate, so I felt duty-bound to stand and speak on this issue. Can I start by saying to the people of Kawerau that I know how very much they rely upon the mills and what an important part of their lives they are.

Having said that, I want to make a few comments about the importance of these mills to Kawerau and to the wider Bay of Plenty, and then about some of the challenges we face around the environment and why I believe that, as the Hon Nick Smith said earlier, the very best place to have this debate and look to make changes to legislation would be in a wider reform of the Resource Management Act, as opposed to singling out, in a piece of legislation like this, one river, one mill, one area. I think there are some things we need to talk about, without doubt, but a wider review and reform of the Resource Management Act is the best place for that.

The mills in Kawerau have a great deal of history. Indeed, without them the town of Kawerau would not exist. It is probably fair to say that if you were to build mills of that size today, you would not build them on a river the size of the one in question. Nevertheless, that was done many years ago when we did not have the same focus on the environment as we, importantly, have today.

The Carter Holt Harvey pulp and paper mill directly employs 210 people, and approximately 140 dedicated onsite contracting staff on top of that. It produces 290,000 tonnes of market kraft paper per year; 40 percent of that is exported to Asia, and 30 percent to Australia, and 30 percent is used domestically. Its chemical pulp exports from New Zealand in the year ending 2009 were valued at about $450 million, and 39 percent of them derived from the Tasman mill—a value of about $176 million in exports for New Zealand. It also sells locally in New Zealand. Therefore, the value of the work of this mill to New Zealand and the local economy is about $260 million.

There are two mills there. There is also the NorskeSkog mill. They share the consent that Mrs Delahunty has mentioned. Collectively, they directly employ 830 people and contractors, and they are responsible for, effectively, creating an additional 3,500 jobs in the wider Bay of Plenty economy. They contribute about $890 million of indirect impact, $169 million to household incomes in the Bay of Plenty, $1.5 billion to the New Zealand economy, and $306 million to New Zealand households, with 7,345 fulltime-equivalent jobs.

The challenge that we have around this resource consent, which was issued a couple of years ago, is that the owners of the mill needed to upgrade the mill. They needed to upgrade it for a number of reasons, including the environmental impact that it was having in its current state. They needed to invest $60 million in a new boiler and other facilities there. They went for a resource consent, and our regional council at the time looked at it. There was an understanding that without this investment the mill would not be able to continue to function as it was, and many of those jobs would be lost.

At the same time, there was recognition of the challenges we face in the environment. I think our regional council did a very good job in balancing some of the concerns of the community about the needs of the environment against the need for investment in a plant that is of absolute importance to the Bay of Plenty and to much of my electorate. So the council was faced with a difficulty there. Indeed, the resource consent was issued. It was challenged. It went to the Environment Court. I think the process did work as was intended when the law was originally written and put in place. All parties had an opportunity to have their say. Since then, the companies concerned have entered into agreements, contracts, with local iwi to provide assistance and funding to make sure that the waterways are kept as clean as they can be.

What I want to do in the moment I have left is just to say that one of the conditions of the consent was that the company needed to continue to reduce the pollution that might be being put into the river. Indeed, if we look at 2004 compared with today, what is being put into the river today is only 30 percent of what was being put in at that period of time. At the end of this consent period there will be one-eighth of the amount going into the river that was the case before.

So I would say that the mills are good corporate citizens. They do have the environment at heart. They work closely with the community. National members will not be supporting this bill, although I do think a debate is important when it comes to the wider Resource Management Act reforms. But to the people of Kawerau, who I know support the mills and the work they do, to the council, and to others there it is very important that if this bill does go to the Local Government and Environment Committee, they have the opportunity to have their say. Thank you.

Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) : I want to begin my contribution on the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill by congratulating the Green Party member Catherine Delahunty on having the good luck to get her bill drawn from the ballot, and also the good sense to put this before the House for a discussion. I want to say also that I am extraordinarily impressed at the large amount of public interest there appears to be from the members of the public who are in the gallery listening to this. I did not realise how many people were actually so concerned about the situation in and around Kawerau, but I think it is excellent to see that. I understand that there is actually a long queue of people who are waiting to get here, and I certainly hope that they are able to make it into the public gallery before Catherine Delahunty does her concluding speech. I want to say that it is great to see so much interest in Kawerau, and I am sure the locals will be really, really impressed.

I have to say that I am disappointed with the local member of Parliament Todd McClay, who has just resumed his seat. For him to not know or understand enough about his own electorate as to not support this bill going to the Local Government and Environment Committee for a discussion is really surprising. I am amazed. I thought he was a member who would say that he does not think this is an issue any more, as he did, but if it has an impact in other areas of the country—as it clearly does in Kawerau—why not send it to a select committee and have the debate? It was obviously of much concern previously for the issue to go to an Environment Court hearing.

I listened to my colleague Moana Mackey in her contribution prior to the dinner adjournment. I just want to say what good news it was to hear a member of Parliament praising their democratically elected regional council and saying how committed Environment Bay of Plenty is to the partnership that it has with local communities, including iwi, and to the standards—not just required, but standards that it thinks are better than required—for environmental protection in its area. Actually, more than anything, what a delight it was to hear about a fully elected democratic regional council. Could we please have one in Canterbury? I do not think it is a big ask. We have not had one for a couple of years. Dr Nick Smith, I am sure, recalls taking away our democratic right—

Moana Mackey: They’re very good.

Hon RUTH DYSON: Moana Mackey tells me it is very good. We would like a fully elected democratic council, in the same way as the entire rest of the country. We in Canterbury think we are up to the job of voting for people. I know we have not been able to do it for a little while, but we think it is within our area of competence. I am sure that even the National members of Parliament for Canterbury think we are up to the job of voting for our regional council.

But back to the specifics of the bill. It is, of course, of concern when an issue as serious as this has gone through the Environment Court process. It is a big process and it is an expensive process, and not one that any organisation will take up lightly. The fact that this issue appears to have been resolved in that specific place, from what we have heard from other contributions—or at least attempts have been made—through the goodwill of the regional council, the company concerned, and the local iwi, through their memorandum of understanding, is good news. But that might not always be the case, so the debate that we should sensibly have at the select committee is specifically around the duration of the discharge and the coastal permits. I think it would be a very worthwhile debate to have.

I just want to make just a few concluding remarks towards the criticism that Todd McClay directed at Catherine Delahunty for what he described as the specificity—the narrowness—of this bill. In 2014—not very long—when Mr McClay is a member of the loyal Opposition of this Parliament—

Hon Trevor Mallard: If he’s high enough on the list.

Hon RUTH DYSON: —if he is high enough on the list—and brings a specific and narrow member’s bill to this House, I give him my commitment that I will not vote against it on the basis of it being too specific and too narrow, but only on the basis of it being stupid or something I fundamentally disagree with. When you are in Opposition, you do not have the resources of a Government department or agency and you do not have the Law Commission to do the preparation of a significant report. You do not have those resources, so often members’ bills are—because of the resources available to Opposition members—quite narrow and quite specific. So I give the member that assurance, and I look forward to progressing this discussion at the select committee.

EUGENIE SAGE (Green) :Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I am very pleased to take a short call on the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill. It could be called the “Tarawera Black Drain Bill”, because this bill would limit to 5 years the duration of a coastal permit or a discharge permit that was issued under the “exceptional circumstances” section in the Resource Management Act. Section 107(2) of the Resource Management Act is the section that allows the discharge, even if it impacts on fish and other aquatic life, and even if it causes a conspicuous change in the colour of the river.

At present in the Act there is no limit to how long the exceptional circumstances that might justify a regional council allowing a discharge could last for, nor is there any definition in the Act of “exceptional circumstances”. So the bill would improve the Resource Management Act by making it more precise. It is not picking off a single issue, as Dr Nick Smith claimed. It would apply to all polluters who sought to use this provision. It is not addressing just one river, the Tarawera, one place, or one mill, but it would certainly constrain the ability of Tasman Pulp and Paper mills to use this “exceptional circumstances” section to continue to grossly pollute the Tarawera River.

The bill is needed because in 2009 Bay of Plenty Regional Council commissioners granted consent to Carter Holt Harvey and NorskeSkog to continue to discharge effluent from the mills into the river for another 25 years, and they granted that permit renewal because of exceptional circumstances. Where the Tarawera River flows out of Lake Tarawera it is a beautiful river. The water is clear enough to see the stones, to see the weed, and to see the occasional trout. It is a beautiful river to walk beside, to see the Tarawera Falls, but lower down, near the sea, the river changes, and that is because of the burden of pollution that has been going into the river for 70 years—70 years—from the pulp and paper mills in Kawerau.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, identified the Tarawera River in its lower reaches as the second most polluted river in Aotearoa. I congratulate Catherine Delahunty on bringing this bill to the House. I congratulate her and the Bay of Plenty iwi, Ngāti Awa, NgātiRangitihi, and NgātiTūwharetoa, on all of their mahi over many decades to respect the mauri of this river and to restore it to health, so that it is a river that provides them with mana and a river that can provide them with kai. We have a long way to go, but this bill is a step along that path.

One might expect a council to use the “exceptional circumstances” section to justify a stormwater overflow in an extreme weather event or a sewage treatment plant that malfunctions, but it should not be used to justify ongoing discharges over decades. The Tasman Pulp and Paper mills need to invest more in clean technology to clean up their discharges. This bill, by limiting that “exceptional circumstances” provision to 5 years, would provide the encouragement for them to do that when the next consent is applied for. I commend this bill to the House, because it is about having clean technology to provide jobs, not abusing the environment to provide jobs. Thank you.

JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) : I cannot support the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill, a bill that seeks to fix a river. I cannot support a bill that seeks to fix a river, because the fabric of the Resource Management Act is designed to set environmental standards for water quality throughout New Zealand.

I also want to pick up on the points that the local member Todd McClay made with regards to the Kawerau River and the Tasman Pulp and Paper mill. I think of the industry in my own small home town—even smaller than the one Todd was referring to—and Summit Wool Spinners. It is also a company that employs several hundred of the people of the town, across many generations, actually. There are up to three generations working in this company in my town, in much the same way as people are working in Kawerau at the Tasman Pulp and Paper mill. The fabric of the town would be torn apart if the mill in my town and if the mill in Kawerau were forced to close. So it is important to the river—yes, of course it is—but it is also important to the local community. We should not ever forget that people are very important, as is the health of the river.

I also want to note tonight a few facts. I know that the Tasman Pulp and Paper Co. has got a good relationship with local iwi. In fact, it is investing, and in the last couple of years has developed very strong collaborative relationships with the three iwi and is concerned with further cleaning up and clarifying the river. The company, Tasman Pulp and Paper, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the iwi that commits $100,000 a year to river projects. To me, that says that that company is one that understands the impact of its activities on the river and one that is actively, together with the local community and together with the local iwi, committing $100,000 a year to river projects. I think that speaks volumes about the company’s recognition of the fact that, yes, it has discharges into the Tarawera River that are causing concerns and certainly do not meet environmental standards, but it is prepared to work with the local community. It is prepared to invest money in improving its water quality and improving the rate of its discharges.

I also note that the mill is continuously working to reduce the discharge. The mill is currently discharging an average of 20 tonnes a day, and that is 33 percent below the allowable limit now. Towards the end of the period of consent, which was granted 3 years ago and which runs for the next 22 years, I understand that the discharges at that point will be something like 80 percent below what has been consented for the period of consent. You are absolutely right: water quality is important. The mill responsible for these discharges has taken that message on board, and it is doing something, together with the local iwi and with the local community, to reduce those discharges. It understands that it has responsibilities to the environment.

My last point that I would like to make is that, given that the consent, which was granted 3 years ago, runs for another 22 years, any impact from this bill will not have any impact on the specific issue to which this bill refers. I cannot support this bill.

CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I want to begin by congratulating the sponsor of the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill, my friend Catherine Delahunty, on putting this measure forward, and also note the remarkable luck that she has had with members’ bills. This is, for those who have not been keeping count, I think, her fourth bill to be drawn from the ballot. Members will know that that is, indeed, a very lucky record.

Tonight is a members’ night, and it is being used in the way that the Standing Orders intend that it should be used. Catherine Delahunty has put forward a bill that reflects one of her fundamental beliefs—a commitment to a clean environment. It is a pleasure to be able to stand and make this short contribution to support what she is doing. It will be an absolute pleasure for me to be able to do the same thing in a few moments for my friend and colleague Louisa Wall.

This bill would amend the Resource Management Act to limit the maximum period for which a discharge permit or a coastal permit may be issued to 5 years. At the moment there is absolutely no limit on the amount of time for which this sort of permit may be issued under section 107(2)(a) of the principal Act. There is only a requirement that there be exceptional circumstances for the issue of such a permit.

My colleagues on this side of the House want to ensure that our coastlines and rivers are protected from pollution, and we support the idea of having a conversation about whether this section is appropriate for New Zealand and the regulation of its environment going forward. For those reasons, my colleagues and I are very proud to say that we will be voting to send this bill forward to the Local Government and Environment Committee, and support its reading for a first time. I hope that enough other members of the House will join my colleagues and me in doing that. With those words I want to conclude my contribution and I look forward, along with others present tonight, to the rest of the business of the House.

CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) :Tēnā koutou katoa. It is great to see the public interest in this moment in history! I am very excited about both my bill, the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill, and the subsequent one, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, because they are both about passionately held, important issues of justice.

To return to my bill, I would like to thank the speakers from New Zealand First and the Labour Party for their very helpful and supportive comments, as well as my own colleague from the Greens. I have heard some interesting attempts to justify not sending the bill to the Local Government and Environment Committee. These include that this bill is for only one river. It is at the moment, but in the past, section 107(2)(a) of the principal Act has also been used in the notorious Paokahu - Tai Rāwhiti sewage battle, which some in this House are well aware of, and the Rotokawa Joint Venture and Mighty River Power battle versus Taupō District Council.

What is more, this kind of open-ended section could be used again. I have already seen it used twice, and I have also seen that the lack of a time limit means that regional councils and companies can rely on it, as Environment Bay of Plenty and the pulp mills, in fact, do. They are hoping that they can keep relying on section 107(2)(a) without a time limit. Successive mill owners have told communities that the effluent in the river is so improved that we should not have to worry; they have paid their experts to say this.

When the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research appeared in front of one of the hearings that I was at and told the court that putting 150,000 tonnes of pulp mill effluence into a river every day was enhancing its life-supporting capacity, I thought I had heard it all. But what I had heard was that money talks in the Environment Court, and the poor cannot be heard.

The scientific knowledge about the toxic effects of chlorine bleaching has been considered by the courts according to last century’s level of understanding about the effect of chemicals. The persistent organic pollutants and emerging chemicals of concern, which are associated with chlorine bleaching, are much more toxic than we suspected, and in smaller amounts. We need to catch up with the modern and precautionary understanding of chemicals, rather than license continued pollution. We can have pulp and paper; we can modernise our industry and keep our jobs.

When Dr Russel Norman and others went down the Tarawera River in an inflatable last year, they arrived at the river mouth with bad headaches, because the “black drain”, as it is unfortunately known, is dirty and it smells bad. I urge you to drive through Matatā and have a look at it. If you would like to look at it, you will see Coca-Cola - black water pumping into the Bay of Plenty after 77 years of pollution.

Another argument was that the local council and regional council do not like my bill, therefore it is not local. It may be news to some in this House, but local and regional councils are not the only voices we need to listen to. I know at least one regional councillor in the Bay of Plenty, Tiipene Marr, who has fought all his life for the clean-up of the river, even though he is outvoted and out-lawyered.

We need to hear from people who gave up submitting and protesting but have not stopped grieving for the 77 years of pollution. And all the memorandums of understanding, the experts, and the planting of nice little trees along the polluted river in the world by the pulp mills does not change the fact that the river is still a drain, and the river is black. If companies like NorskeSkog and Carter Holt Harvey want to, they can afford the experts, and pay them well, and say that there are no cultural, social, or environmental issues that are ongoing. But I swear to this House that there are people—some living and some who have passed on—who, although they cannot win in court, have a legitimate and profound view that we need to hear about section 107(2)(a), and also about the sludge pond and the contamination hidden behind the barbed wire fence around the wāhi tapu at Kawerau. Just as the gallery tonight may be full of people who are here for justice, this is an injustice they may never have heard of, and it is time that they did know about what is going on behind the pulp mills at Kawerau. It is time that you heard this story.

The workers at the mill and every activist campaigner over 77 years have acknowledged the need for jobs and for food on the table in the Bay of Plenty. But do we really believe that after 77 years of pollution we cannot incentivise these companies to change? We can protect this and other waterways by giving them a clear message about the law. Exceptional means exceptional, and a river is not a drain. I would like to thank all of you who have supported this bill and I say, once again, kia kaha, te Tarawera Awa.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the Resource Management (Restricted Duration of Certain Discharge and Coastal Permits) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.

Ayes 61 New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Māori Party 3; Mana 1; United Future 1.
Noes 60 New Zealand National 59; ACT New Zealand 1.
Bill read a first time.
  • Bill referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee.