Hansard and Journals
Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill — Second Reading
[Sitting date: 13 February 2013. Volume:687;Page:7812. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill
- Debate resumed from 12 February.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): I call the honourable member Nicky Wagner. Nicky, you do not need to touch the microphone; just leave it as it is. Sorry, no, do not turn it on or off; just put it straight up and it will work. Thank you, Nicky.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): You just need to keep talking and they will put it on, but do not play with the microphone.
NICKY WAGNER: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Hold it up to your mouth and just keep talking. Those are the instructions we have been given by the technician.
NICKY WAGNER: I am pleased to be supporting this Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill at its second reading. Back in May 2010 the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act was passed. The bill that we are looking at today will extend the governance arrangements under that Act and retain Government-appointed commissioners instead of elected members in the Canterbury Regional Council until the election of 2016. There are also special provisions in the bill that will require a ministerial review in 2014 of Environment Canterbury’s governance structure, its membership, its powers, and its functions.
At a previous debate on this bill the Hon Annette King had been talking loud and long about how bad this bill will be for Cantabrians, but as someone who lives in Canterbury I know that she is wrong. The majority of Cantabrians see this as a sensible way forward during a very difficult time in our province. To understand why they feel like this, let us look at the history. Let us look at the history.
In 2010, following an extended period of poor performance, the Government replaced Environment Canterbury councillors with commissioners. How did central government know that Environment Canterbury was performing badly? Firstly, it came from other elected representatives in the province. They told us. The mayors across Canterbury came to central government and asked for intervention so that they could better manage the regional council issues. So we set up an independent review, and that independent review found that Environment Canterbury granted consents without any proper framework, and that it allowed new water to be taken for catchments that were overallocated.
At the same time the 2007-08 Resource Management Act survey came out, and that stated that Environment Canterbury had failed to process more than two-thirds of the resource consent applications within the statutory time frame, and that actually Environment Canterbury’s performance was the worst out of 84 councils in New Zealand. The review group also stated that the institutional failure in Environment Canterbury “requires comprehensive and rapid intervention on the part of central government to … enhance both regional and national well-being.”
So seven commissioners were appointed, with Dame Margaret Bazley as the chair, and I have to say they have been highly successful and very effective in addressing Environment Canterbury’s systemic problems and reforming the quality of decision making and conduct. More important, their work has been totally transparent, with public reporting to the people of Canterbury every 3 months. During their time they have managed the Canterbury Natural Resources Regional Plan through to an operative stage and they have started working on a second-generation land and water plan—things that had been hanging around Environment Canterbury for a very long time.
They have also made significant progress on the implementation of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. That was a strategy that came out of discussions across the province. It is a very democratic way, and it is a really very collaborative process. Through that process they have developed zone implementation plans and are now working their way into a statutory plan by way of planned change processes. The latest survey results on the Resource Management Act show that they have dramatically improved compliance with statutory consent time lines under the Resource Management Act. Ninety-two percent of resource consents were processed within the statutory time frames in 2010-11, compared with 29 percent in 2007-08.
They have also significantly improved relationships with territorial authorities, with iwi, and with other stakeholders, and through collaboration they have come up with a joint working programme with Ngāi Tahu. Finally, and very important in our province, they have established a strong partnership with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to facilitate earthquake recovery. So all in all it has been a very successful body, and has delivered good results for the environment and for Canterbury.
It is really appropriate that central government assists councils when a failure has happened. Not acting can bring serious consequences for the future of Canterbury. The commissioners have done an excellent job, and the people of Canterbury are happy to see them continue their work until 2016. And how do I know that the majority of Cantabrians are supportive? Because of their reactions to the bill. Let me read some of their comments. Local Government New Zealand, which represents the mayors, the councillors, and the ratepayers, says: “The Commission has made good headway on major issues affecting the region … Environment Canterbury has done outstanding work, both in its response to the earthquakes in Canterbury, and its work on implementing the Canterbury Water Management Strategy,”.
And the rural community, Federated Farmers and Irrigation New Zealand, has said: “I would hope”—and I suggest that the Hon Clayton Cosgrove listens to this—“that people who will oppose this move will think before commenting. The Commissioners, in a few short years, have achieved more than the old failed council ever did. I recall a shrill tone at the time, but every prediction of doom has not eventuated.” Irrigation New Zealand has said: “Rural communities now have more opportunities to be involved in water management through the collaborative approach of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. We are starting to see real gains through the zone committee and we don’t want to go back to the nightmare situation that ratepayers suffered under previously.”
Finally, Ngāi Tahu, representing tangata whenua and iwi, say: “ECan has a significant role in issues of importance to Ngāi Tahu and the overall environmental health of Canterbury’s land and water based economy … In our view the commissioners have done a good job to date in addressing some very challenging issues. Iwi and community participation in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy forums has been a very worthwhile exercise.” So I know, Mr Cosgrove, that local government, representing democratically elected members, the rural community, and Ngāi Tahu all support the commissioners. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) : I take it this microphone is working? It is. Well, that was an extraordinary speech. Nicky Wagner is obviously orbiting in a stratosphere that no one else is. She got up and said that there is overwhelming support for this bill, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill, inherent within which is a massive broken promise from the Government, but we will get to that in a minute. Nicky Wagner’s defence of this bill and the evidence that she provided for her claim that Cantabrians overwhelmingly support an abrogation, yet again, of their democratic right to have a say in their regional local government was that Federated Farmers, which is sort of the National Party in gumboots, Ngāi Tahu, and a couple of others—in fact, I think that was it—had said that this was a good thing. Yet what she failed—
Dr Megan Woods: Local Government New Zealand.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Oh, Local Government New Zealand, of course—highly representative, is Local Government New Zealand, of grassroots Cantabrians. Federated Farmers—highly representative, overwhelmingly, of 350,000-plus grassroots Cantabrians. But what she failed to acknowledge, given that I think—was she on the Local Government and Environment Committee? I think so.
Dr Megan Woods: She is it.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Oh, she is the select committee. She failed to acknowledge a thing called submissions. People get to have their say directly before a select committee through a thing called submissions. If you look at the submissions, there were 95 of them. How many were in support? Five. How many were opposed? Ninety. Even Nicky Wagner and Gerry Brownlee could probably do the math using all their fingers and toes and work out the percentage on that. Five submissions out of 95 supported it, and 90 submissions out of 95 opposed it. So I say to Ms Wagner that that is called evidence before her own select committee, which, of course, she conveniently failed to mention, apart from Federated Farmers, Local Government New Zealand, and Ngāi Tahu.
I will tell you what this is about. This is about a massive broken promise by this Government. Nick Smith said in March 2010: “whatever the circumstances, the next regional council elections in Canterbury will take place no later than those scheduled for late 2013. The explicit intent is for the commissioners to withdraw and be replaced by elected representatives as soon as their task is achieved and the present systematic issues are resolved.” That was a cast-iron promise. I remember the debate. I remember us providing warnings that this could be rolled over yet again. But we were told by the Government “No, no, no.”, that we were being negative, that this was all about doing the right thing, and that this was a cast-iron, pop-riveted, vulcanised promise. Well, the Government broke it. That member, Nicky Wagner, broke it, and the best she can do today is cobble together a number of untruths to say that the overwhelming number of people in Canterbury and overwhelming numbers of Cantabrians support the bill. Well, that is piffle—absolute piffle. If you look at what business people have said and if you look at what grassroots community members have said, that is total piffle. I say this to Ms Wagner: people in Canterbury, where I live and other colleagues live, have had a bit of a gutsful of being steamrolled by this Government, whether it be by, of course, Gerry Brownlee’s promises around the earthquake; Gerry Brownlee’s “my way or the highway” sort of blunderbuss, steamroller management style around the earthquake; or his promise about things like if you make improvements to your house, that will be part of the deal—a broken promise. They have had a bit of a gutsful of being told what to think, what to say, and how to act, and being told to shut up and take the medicine.
Actually, people in Christchurch and Greater Canterbury would like to have some say—like to have some say—and make a contribution to their own future. But this Government, of course, says that it knows best. It is interesting, because in the select committee report—have a look at it—the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, said this: “The Commission considers that no good reason has been provided for extending the present legislation. The lack of public consultation about content—or the continuing need for the legislation—is an abuse of the democratic process and does not reflect the real needs of Cantabrians … In our view the present legislation has the potential to further exacerbate the resentment that has arisen in Canterbury as a result”—these are very interesting words for the Chief Human Rights Commissioner to use—“of autocratic decision making.” That is what the Chief Human Rights Commissioner says.
Then we get, of course, to the regulatory impact statement. The Government ignored the regulatory impact statement. We know that the Department of Internal Affairs’ advisers and the Ministry for the Environment’s advisers recommended option one, which was legislation to establish a transitional mixed governing body for Environment Canterbury, with the provision for the Minister of Local Government to review arrangements by 2017. The Government rejected that. It absolutely rejected that. The regulatory impact statement, of course, went on to say this—it made three points; I will read this one—“The extension of the Commissioners’ terms would continue to deny Canterbury residents the opportunity to vote for representatives on ECan. Also, given the progress made by the Commissioners, there is no apparent reason for continuing this level of intervention, which was used in response to ECan’s previous serious and systemic dysfunction.” That is what the regulatory impact statement said, that is what the Government’s own advisers said, and it rejected that advice.
So what have we got stacking up? We have got 90 out of 95 submitters saying that they oppose this bill. We have got the vast majority of Cantabrians—apart from the Government’s Federated Farmers mates—saying that they oppose it. We have got the Government’s own official advisers—the Department of Internal Affairs and the Ministry for the Environment—recommending a transitional provision and a different course of action leading to democratic processes. And we also have the actual regulatory impact statement saying that this is undemocratic, that it is autocratic, and that it is wrong. Of course, to cap it all off, as Nicky Wagner hides behind her desk, we had one of the biggest broken promises articulated in this Parliament—in this Parliament. Why is it that Ms Wagner, the member for Christchurch Central, does not trust her own community to be part of decision-making processes? Maybe, like Gerry Brownlee, she fears this fact, that the community may stand up and say: “We do not agree. We believe, Government, that you are wrong, and we want a different course of action.” I suspect that that is why these people do not want Cantabrians to have a say. They do not want to listen to any alternative advice.
We had Bill English before the select committee—sorry, we had the manufacturing inquiry, I digress slightly, on Monday. I asked the former president of the Manufacturers and Exporters Association whether he had had engagement with Minister Joyce, the Minister for Economic Development. No, none—zero since he took the portfolio. The association has offered to speak and offered to meet, and the Minister does not want to know. That is yet another example of this Government taking advice from everybody else that suits its purpose, taking advice from yes-people.
Even if you look at economic policy, the IMF, the Reserve Bank, and Treasury all say that we are heading for the rocks in respect of the deficit, but Bill English, of course, says that he knows better than everyone else, including, we found out today, the Westpac bank. This Government takes advice from those who will doff their hat, tug their forelock, and say: “Yes, we agree.” I worry that even in our Public Service, the days are gone of public servants being allowed to give free and frank advice without fear or favour, such that they can say to a Minister: “Minister, we believe that your course of action is wrong, but we are professionals. If you deem it appropriate to go down that path, even though we think it won’t work, we will implement it for you because we are a professional Public Service.” That is appropriate advice, to say: “We think you’re wrong but will do what we’re told because you are the elected Government.” I fear that, like this legislation, this Government has dumbed down our Public Service to the point where it has just given up. There is no point in saying that something will not work—whether it be charter schools, whether it be the student ratios, whether it be this bill, or whether it be the school closures in Christchurch—the Government is going to do it anyway; it will not listen to the advice.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Sounds like the Treasury advice to Michael Cullen.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I say to Ms Wagner and old smoke ball, the cigar man down in the front row, that I look forward to the local body elections, when Ms Wagner will be called to account in the next 12 months by her—
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Nastiness.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: No, I will tell you what is nasty: it is denying people the right to have a say, and denying people the right to have a vote. That, Minister Coleman, is more than nasty; that is autocratic. But that member does not want to know. It will be an interesting local body campaign, as people call Ms Wagner to account and ask why it is that the member for Christchurch Central will not allow Cantabrians the right to have their say, why it is that she broke her promise, and why it is that there is an autocratic rule down there.
The other problem with commissioners is that they are answerable to this crowd, not to the electors. They have no responsibility to local electors, and they are not held to account by them. They do what they are told up here, and that is wrong. It is autocratic. This bill should be opposed with every fibre we have in our bodies.
EUGENIE SAGE (Green) : Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I join with colleagues in recognising the service to this House of the former Speaker, Dr The Rt Hon Lockwood Smith, and in congratulating the new Speaker, the Rt Hon David Carter.
The Green Party remains strongly opposed to this bill, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill—what a misdescription of a bill. We are opposed to it because it is undemocratic, it is contrary to the rule of law, and it weakens and undermines water conservation orders and the Resource Management Act in Canterbury.
There was a very eloquent submission by the New Zealand Law Society’s rule of law committee, presented by its chair, Austin Forbes. That submission said that democratic decision-making in local government is a very important and legitimate expectation of citizens. The proposed further suspension of local body democracy runs counter to core constitutional values—most important, that of a free and democratic society. The Law Society said that the bill should not proceed. The Green Party agrees.
If we did not have this bill, Environment Canterbury would be set to return to an elected governing body of regional councillors in the local elections in October. Regardless of what people thought of regional councillors in 2010, October 2013 should have been the chance for all Cantabrians to exercise their democratic right and elect councillors to determine and decide how the rates that those Cantabrians pay should be spent, how the land, water, air, coast, and natural hazards in the region should be managed, and how regional transport should be planned.
That was what Ministers promised in 2010; that was what was the understanding in this House when the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 was passed. So the Government has reneged on that commitment, because it wants to reorganise local government in Canterbury, and the 10 mayors who wrote to the Minister at the time may well regret that, if there are proposals for a unitary authority as in Auckland.
The Government also wants to continue with its hand-picked commissioners because it wants them to control and finalise the key statutory documents that will guide land and water management in Canterbury for the next decade. It is the regional land and water plan that will set the framework for decisions on water take, for decisions on irrigation, and for acceptable nitrate levels in aquifers and waterways, and will set the rules that control the extent to which dairying can expand and intensive land use can increase the pollution load.
The Government wants a weak land and water plan because it is desperate for more agricultural intensification, more irrigation, and more dairying in Canterbury. It is desperate because of its failure to embrace smart green growth and have a smart plan for our future. Its economic agenda is stuck in the 19th century. It is stuck in resource exploitation—more mining, more drilling, and more irrigation. For Nicky Wagner to go on, as a former regional councillor, with the mistruths that the new Minister has perpetuated—that Environment Canterbury did not have a plan—is inexcusable. Environment Canterbury had a natural resources regional plan, a proposed plan, which was notified in 2004. It is this new regional land and water plan that is succeeding that is the second-generation plan.
What do Cantabrians say about that plan? We have had North Canterbury’s Fish and Game environmental officer say: “We have been presented with a weak and permissive plan that cannot effectively manage water resource decisions over the next five years.” Hearings on that plan, which the commissioners have put out, begin in the next few weeks. That is why the Government wants them to stay, so it can ensure that the plan continues to have very weak rules to control agricultural intensification and irrigation.
It was that that was the genesis of the substantive Act in 2010. The Government wanted legislation that would favour irrigators, and it was under the 2010 Act that we have seen the Minister sign off the changes to the Rākaia water conservation order, which allow TrustPower to manipulate the flows in that magnificent river, the Rākaia River, and promote much more extensive irrigation in conjunction with Central Plains Water.
So we have had that scheme and the continued changes to water conservation orders continuing under this bill, when the official advice from the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Ministry for the Environment, and the Department of Internal Affairs was that there was insufficient justification for continuing those special water conservation order provisions. Cabinet rejected the advice of officials and we still have now, under this bill, legislation in Canterbury that is part of the Resource Management Act that is completely different from that which applies in the rest of the country. What did the Ministers also do? They rejected the advice from their own commissioners for a mixed body of elected members and appointed commissioners.
The 2010 Act was rammed through under urgency with no opportunity for submissions. We have had submissions on this bill, and what have those submissions said? Ninety of the 95 submissions opposed the bill. It is interesting to see those who favoured it. They were Irrigation New Zealand, the Waitaki Irrigators Collective, and Federated Farmers, highlighting the way in which the bill serves their interests. As Clayton Cosgrove mentioned, the Human Rights Commission noted that the bill has the potential “to further exacerbate the resentment that has arisen in Canterbury as a result of autocratic decision making.”, and that was a major theme that came through the submissions presented by Canterbury residents to the Local Government and Environment Committee in Christchurch. As Rosalie Snoyink of Glentunnel said: “The best people to represent …” us on Environment Canterbury are people “elected by us, for us.”
What have we seen with water management under the commissioners? Certainly the collaborative water management strategy has been rolled out, but that was developed by elected councillors, not by commissioners; they have rolled it out. What is happening with water management in Darfield? One hundred and fifty people got sick because an E. coli bacteria was found in the community water supply. That is not the result of good water management; that is the result of poorly controlled agricultural intensification.
We need Cantabrians to be involved in decision making. We need to remove that sense of powerlessness that people are feeling with the autocratic way in which the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority goes out making its decisions, with the lack of ability to have a real say in what the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority is doing and now with this legislation, which tramples over local democracy. It further disempowers Cantabrians. As the Law Society said, the bill is a disturbing breach of the rule of law. That is because it removes access to the Environment Court for appeals on regional plans, and it sidesteps the Environment Court and that really specialist jurisdiction that the court has.
In conclusion, this bill is totally consistent with the National Government’s changes to the Local Government Act 2002, where it again erodes local democracy by increasing the ability of the Minister to interfere and direct elected representatives to undermine their autonomy. So the Green Party opposes this bill. It is anti-democratic, it is a breach of the rule of law, and it undermines democracy.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) : This bill, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill, amends the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 to extend commissioner governance until the 2016 local authority elections, with a ministerial review in 2014.
On 7 September 2012 the then Minister of Local Government, the Hon David Carter, and the Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, both Cantabrians, and both well aware of the issues down there, announced that commissioners would continue to govern Environment Canterbury after the 2013 local body elections. The major reason for that is the huge success that they have had in recent years in decision making, even though they have faced extraordinary events, such as the Canterbury earthquakes—a series of them—and, of course, tensions over the use of water there.
I appreciate that the Green Party likes to hold hands and have wider decision-making processes. It likes to have committees. It likes to call meetings. It likes to have reviews. It likes to have reviews on reviews. It likes to have royal commissions and commissions of inquiry. What it does not like is making a decision, the reason being that you might offend someone. Well, sadly for the Green Party—and I know it is sad for those members—but gladly for Cantabrians and the National Party, we are going to see the employment of these commissioners. They have been making decisions—hard decisions—in the face of adversity, and they have done it well, as Ngāi Tahu and the general community have witnessed. So I support this bill and I commend it to the House.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): It may pay, yes.
DENIS O’ROURKE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. First of all, I would like to say that I felt that Nicky Wagner’s claim that the majority of Cantabrians would support this bill, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill, was utterly baseless poppycock. Nobody can possibly know who would vote which way on that issue. I can say this. Nobody I have spoken to—and I have lived in Canterbury all my life—would support this bill. Nobody I have spoken to would do so. So I am convinced, as a resident, that this bill is not supported by them.
The bill does two things. It extends the commissioner’s special water management powers, and delays the date, as we know, for an elected Environment Canterbury council to 2016. New Zealand First firmly opposes the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill. Having said that, I would have to say that I was relieved when in 2010 the Government removed the elected Environment Canterbury council and replaced it with commissioners. Many people in Canterbury at that time felt the same.
I was then, and still am, the chair of the Central Plains Water Trust, which holds the consents for the Central Plains Water scheme. At that time, great concern was held about the irrational behaviour of Environment Canterbury on some irrigation issues. The elected Environment Canterbury council was itself very hostile to all irrigation development, and was driven by public and political perceptions about irrigated farming, rather than by robust policy and planning.
The Central Plains Water scheme was, and is, about sustainable farming, not about first-generation, old-style irrigation. Central Plains Water Trust developed a sustainable farming protocol and supporting contractual arrangements—a first for New Zealand on this—and demonstrated a genuine commitment to environmentally sustainable agriculture in that way. The Christchurch City Council and the Selwyn District Council established the trust to ensure that the Central Plains Water scheme was always a community scheme with no alienable water rights and that resource consents would be held in trust permanently.
Environment Canterbury in 2010 was virtually impossible to deal with. It had unreasonable political hostility towards irrigators and farmers—not good government—and it exacerbated the town-versus-country divide for purely political ends. It had developed a them-and-us mentality, so Central Plains Water Trust and other irrigators were treated as enemies, whereas Central Plains Water Trust wished to collaborate. This also extended to Environment Canterbury management, which, in fact, sought to change plans even while the trust’s Resource Management Act process was still being finalised, and it always failed to genuinely consult on those issues.
Environment Canterbury has always had a poor attitude to water issues. Early in the 1990s, when I was a city councillor in Christchurch, I know from attempted meetings with Environment Canterbury that it would refuse to collaborate with the city council on water issues. It then complained about insufficient resources, and its actions by 2010 were then 10 years too late and badly formulated. In the meantime, during those 10 years, the city council and Selwyn District Council got together and had to act alone without Environment Canterbury to set up Central Plains Water Trust and make their own plans on water issues with a genuine attempt to balance the need for economic development based on irrigation and economic development of the central plains with environmental sustainability.
The best hope now for a consensus is the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, and that especially now concerns storage issues. Environment Canterbury wasted time during the previous years on impossibly impractical proposals like in-ground storage, and it needed a balanced, collaborative approach, not a dictatorial one, to establish achievable environmental standards—especially, for example, on nitrate levels. The commissioners have done that and their job is substantially done.
I note that in the bill’s policy statement it says: “In order to enable the commissioners to adopt a second-generation Land and Water Plan and other plans and to fully implement the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, the commissioners will continue to be provided with additional resource management powers.”, and so on. Does that mean, if they are going to be around to fully implement it, that they are going to have to be there for the next 20 years? Because that is how long it will take to fully implement it. Does that mean that 2016 is not actually the date when we will get an elected Environment Canterbury? Is it actually going to be some further extended date in the future?
Although the original decision to insert the commissioners was necessary for the reasons I gave, that never meant I thought it was right, or ever would be right, to delay the elected council’s reinstatement beyond 2013. The commissioners themselves say this, and I know that from having private conversations with some of them. The decision to add another 3 years, until 2016, before the election of a new regional council is unnecessary. Everything the commissioners needed to do has been sufficiently done, and the decision is unhelpful. The strategy now needs community buy-in and active support, and that requires at least a majority of Environment Canterbury to be elected. The decision is an affront to democracy.
Along with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Christchurch Central Development Unit, there is altogether too much central government in Canterbury and not enough community governance. Community representation may be inconvenient for a National Government, but there is a real sense of loss and grievance felt by Canterbury people over their loss of adequate say in local governance. The perception now is of Government manipulation in Canterbury for its own ends, perhaps with a secret agenda. Commissioners are perceived as tools of central government, not as representatives of the community, and the Government is perceived as having commercial imperatives through its shareholding in TrustPower, with its Rākaia and Lake Coleridge interests in power generation, ostensibly for the supply of water for irrigation schemes.
So what should the Government do now? First of all, it should stick to its promise, broken by this bill, to hold elections for Environment Canterbury in 2013, and should immediately identify top options for a new Environment Canterbury and not wait until next year to do so. The Government should be asking whether Environment Canterbury should be fully elected, or part elected and part appointed; whether the old Environment Canterbury as it was should be reinstated; and, in fact, whether there should be a unitary council, or unitary councils, in Canterbury. Those are the things it should have been doing last year, and they should be well advanced by now, so that Cantabrians could actually decide what should happen to local government and, in particular, to Environment Canterbury in the future.
Finally, local government arrangements must be the people’s choice and not the Government’s choice. Water management issues must no longer be a political football for the main parties. National has broken its promise, and it should now reverse that and allow elections for Environment Canterbury this year, along with all other local government organisations.
Hon Member: Can’t hear you.
JACQUI DEAN: —I know; I am speaking—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Just keep going, Jacqui.
JACQUI DEAN: —OK—is a regional council that delivers good water policy, timely consenting, and good relationships with all stakeholders. Any time the sound booth wants to turn the mike on, it would be fantastic. The commissioners have lifted the performance of Environment Canterbury from a very low base. It is that improvement that Cantabrians support. The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill has my support.
Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram) : I find it to be a shameful day to be standing in this House as we move another step closer towards robbing Cantabrians of their democratic rights. I do not think it is something that anybody in this House should be proud of. I am a proud Cantabrian, and it saddens me that I am standing in a Parliament that is willing to infringe my democratic rights, the democratic rights of the people whom I represent, and the democratic rights of the people whom I share a province with.
Until 2010, I guess, like many people, I took for granted my right to vote. I do not any longer. I believed that in this country we believed in notions such as having no taxation without representation. I believed that if we were not happy with what elected members were doing, there was one way to change that, and that was through a ballot box. But I no longer believe this, because I have lived through watching the democratic rights of myself, my constituents, and my fellow Cantabrians being systematically robbed over the last 3 years.
I want to acknowledge Eugenie Sage, a member of this House, who was an elected member of the sacked council in 2010. I also want to acknowledge a former member of that regional council, the chair of the Local Government and Environment Committee, Nicky Wagner, who unfortunately is overseeing this process of stripping Cantabrians of their elected rights.
For National members to stand opposite us and take their paltry calls, where they will not even defend something as fundamental as taking away democratic rights, and glibly claim that Cantabrians support this, is simply wrong. I can tell you that Cantabrians do not support this legislation. Ninety of the 95 submissions to the select committee opposed this legislation, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill. Submitter after submitter appeared before us. Colleagues who have spoken before me have gone through some of those submissions, and I will come back to some of them.
The Christchurch Press on 5 November last year—5 November, of course, being Guy Fawkes Day, and a reasonably apt day to be talking about democracy and what happens to Parliaments that try to rob their citizens of that—attacked the decisions that this Government was making in terms of the rights of Cantabrians and their rights to vote, and the backtrack of this Government on those rights. Let us not forget that when Nick Smith, as the Minister of Local Government, originally took away Cantabrians’ rights to vote, he assured us that we would have our right to vote back for the local body elections in 2013. Do we? No, we do not.
As my colleague Clayton Cosgrove has suggested, Nicky Wagner, as the member for Christchurch Central throughout this year, is going to have to defend that decision to the people of Christchurch Central. She is going to have to defend the fact that she has chaired a select committee that is taking away the rights of the people of Christchurch and the people of Canterbury to vote. She will have to tell us why it is that Nick Smith originally stood up and said: “whatever the circumstances, the next regional council elections in Canterbury will take place no later than those scheduled for late 2013.” Well, that is not to be the case, and Ms Wagner owes the people of Christchurch Central, the people of Christchurch, and the people of Canterbury an explanation for that.
The Christchurch Press, in that editorial, was moved to say that the fact that it was having to get information about this through the Official Information Act process was “another example of a post-quake arrogance that has crept into the way some of our Cabinet ministers are operating. The public of Canterbury should not have to go through Official Information Act channels to get Adams and Carter to tell them what is going on in their own region. As with Finance Minister Bill English’s extraordinary comments about the Christchurch City Council’s finances, it is another example of being told something but given no evidence to back it up.”
This is what the people of Christchurch and the people of Canterbury are feeling. They are feeling that this is a Government that is riding roughshod over their rights. It has taken away their right to vote. It has not listened to what they want for education in their communities. We await the Minister of Education’s announcements on Monday the 18th with great hope, actually, that the Minister will have listened to the schools and the communities and the teachers and the students about what they see as the best results for education in their communities.
We heard from the Law Society that this legislation is a mistake and that it should not proceed. We heard from the human rights commissioner about how bad this legislation is in terms of the rights of the people of Canterbury. This was truly shocking to sit through and listen to. When hearings were held in Christchurch, tempers flared. The committee had to stop because Cantabrians who came to put in their submissions got so angered about what this Government is doing to their democratic rights. So for members to sit opposite and pretend that Cantabrians support this is simply hiding from the reality.
We have heard a great deal of what august bodies feel about this legislation, but there is one submission that I want to enter into the Hansard and spend some time on. It is a submission from James Adams, who is 14 years old, lives in my electorate, and attends Hillmorton High School. I found this a very moving submission to read. I was also very saddened that a 14-year-old growing up in the electorate that I represent has had to put these words on a piece of paper. He wrote in his submission: “When we think of the concept [of] democracy, we tend to think about elections, casting votes, and the funny orange man. Yet that’s not all there is to a democracy. There must be independent courts, so that if citizens feel abused or unhappy about something, there’s a proper process to go through to sort things out. The people in the democracy must not be afraid to speak out, and they must be able to use the media to share their opinions. The leaders have a role in consulting with the people to find out what they want between elections. Sometimes it’s more useful to define something by its opposite, or what it isn’t. Democracy isn’t where a small group of people grab all the power and do what they like with it.” Well, I am very sorry to have to tell James, as his local member of Parliament, that this is exactly what the Government that is elected in this country is doing to the people of Canterbury, and it is simply not good enough.
James carries on in his submission: “Basically, this bill refuses Cantabrians the right to vote in regional council elections. It removes our right to take legislation to the environment court. In general, this bill allows the Government to grab all the power and do what they like with it.” But James does not finish there. James has a very good understanding of what this Government is doing to his city, his future, and his rights as a citizen of that city and this country. James carries on: “I believe that this legislation shows is a lack of trust. The Government doesn’t seem to trust Cantabrians, in case the council which we elect does not have the same agenda as the Government’s. The Government does not trust Cantabrians to make decisions about Canterbury.” Well, James, you are spot on. This is a Government that does not trust Cantabrians to make decisions about Canterbury.
But James does say: “Well, the people of Canterbury will soon have no trust in the Government if they continue to deceive the public … I am appalled at this unprecedented dismissal of democracy in Canterbury. If we are to rise to the challenge that the earthquakes pose, if we are to manage our water fairly, for the benefit of all, then we will need leadership at Ecan that is constructive, strong, fair and most importantly democratic.”
I am proud to represent this young man and the family, the school, and the community that have produced him. I hope that members opposite listen to this. I hope that members opposite will trust Cantabrians to make decisions about Canterbury. I hope that James can one day have faith that a Government is not there just to grab power for itself but to adhere to basic democratic principles. And I have great hope for James that that will be the case. We hear all kinds of lamenting of the lack of engagement of young people in politics. Well, here is a young man in my electorate whom I want listened to, who understands what democracy is—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I am sorry to interrupt the honourable member, her time has expired.
MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) : The charmless, pugnacious, and inelegant call of the speaker who just resumed her seat, Megan Woods, clearly illustrates the problem that Labour has. It misses the point. Her criticism of the MP for Christchurch Central is deplorable and typical of that member, who, clearly, is missing the point and not listening to anything that has been said.
Let us just reaffirm it briefly and quickly for you. The purpose of this bill, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill, is: “to extend the Canterbury Regional Council’s governance arrangement and special water management decision-making powers in the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act …” because it needs to be done. The council was the most woefully performing of all. In 2010 the Government replaced Environment Canterbury councillors with commissioners. Again, that needed to be done, because Environment Canterbury’s performance was ranked the worst of 64 councils in New Zealand. That is why we support this bill and commend it to the House.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) : Mr Speaker, you are absolutely correct: this is a split call. Can I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me the privilege to speak on this bill, the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill. I want to make just a very brief comment about the member who has just resumed her seat, Maggie Barry, and that is that the display that she has just put on for the rest of the House was very similar to that which she put on in Canterbury. It caused not just concern, not just a bit of annoyance, but absolute outrage that somebody had the audacity to come from the other end of the country, arrive briefly in our city, and tell off submitters, who were so distraught at losing their right to vote and were so poorly dismissed by the members of the Government. I found it amazing that when submitters came to the table and said that all they were asking for is the right to vote, members of the National Party said: “Why is that such a big deal? Why is that important?”. People have died in other countries, literally, arguing and fighting for the right to vote, but members of the National Party sat at a select committee asking why democracy is so important, and saying: “Are not the commissioners doing quite a good job? We appointed competent people.” Nobody is arguing about the competence or otherwise of any of the commissioners. What we asked for in Canterbury—and I still do not think it was a very big ask—was just the right to vote for our regional council.
I believed Nick Smith. I am sure some of my colleagues will laugh at that, but I believed the Hon Nick Smith when he promised us that the removal of our democratic right to vote for our regional council was a very short-term measure. I disagreed with it in the first place—it was wrong—but I trusted his words, because he said not just “we hope”, not just “we think”, and not just “we’d like to” but that “whatever the circumstances, the next regional council elections in Canterbury will take place no later than those scheduled for late 2013.” I am really disappointed that we are making a liar of the Hon Dr Nick Smith by passing this legislation. I think he intended his words to be reflected in practice. I am sure that when he said that, he had no intention to mislead the people of Canterbury.
But I am really disappointed that we are arguing about the removal of a democratic right to vote immediately prior to the departure, the valedictory speech, of our former Speaker. I want to pay tribute to Lockwood Smith, and he will probably be a little surprised at that because it is not something I have done a lot, but I have had great admiration for his ability as Speaker to let the debate flow in a way that acknowledged the depth of passion of politicians, whatever party they are attached to, but also to ensure that the House generated a greater degree of respect than it has in the past. I find it offensive to the former Speaker, Lockwood Smith, to have his actions, so highly regarded by Parliament and, I think, by many New Zealanders, immediately butting up to a bill that takes away a democratic right. I want to apologise on behalf of the Government, actually, for putting such an obnoxious bill immediately next to the valedictory speech of someone who has worked so hard to improve the behaviour in Parliament without stifling the conversation.
I know that the current Speaker would be pretty outraged that this bill was going through, because he is from Canterbury, and, unfortunately, was the Minister who shepherded it through. I want to express my strong disappointment in the Hon David Carter during his term as the Minister of Local Government for progressing this. As a Cantabrian, I would have thought that there would be greater acknowledgment of the strength and the passion of people’s desire to vote. We have had some of the biggest demonstrations in Canterbury about this very issue immediately upon its announcement and further since the extension.
This really does come on top of the other issues that we are dealing with. There is a feeling of disempowerment as the National Government bulldozes through the rights, ambitions, and desires of Cantabrians to play a critical part in our recovery and rebuild. We are just being ignored by the Government. That is not just our loss; it is a loss to the rest of the country. I want the Government to reconsider. I want it to recognise our right to vote and stop the progress of this bill.
MOJO MATHERS (Green) : The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill, which extends the suspension of democracy in Canterbury, is a travesty of natural justice. The continued denial of voting rights is nothing less than a kick in the guts for the people of Canterbury and the people of Christchurch.
The people of Canterbury are the people most affected by the decision and policy made by Environment Canterbury, yet our input is marginalised and sidelined by this bill. We are the ones who fall sick when our drinking water supplies are contaminated and polluted. My 12-year-old son was one of those in Darfield who became sick when the water supply became contaminated with E. coli as a result of uncontrolled agriculture intensification in the area. It is our babies who are at risk when nitrate levels rise to dangerous levels, as they have in some areas. It is our children who are affected when the local river becomes too polluted to swim in. These are fundamental issues that affect the health and well-being of everyone in Canterbury, and therefore this is fundamental as to why we need to have a democratic say in the decision making.
A healthy democracy is based upon three fundamental planks: that citizens are able to vote, that there is a free flow of information so that decision making is transparent, and that there must be the right of appeal. All of these have been denied to us in Canterbury. No matter how the Government tries to spin it as being for our benefit, the reason why the Government is continuing to trample over our democratic rights in Canterbury is that it has the goal, ultimately, of turning Canterbury into one gigantic dairy farm. In other words, it wants to relegate Canterbury to the status of a cash cow to serve its economic agenda, and in doing so it is prepared to trample over the democratic rights of Cantabrians to have a say in the economic development of their area.
This is about enabling massive construction projects that will change the face of Canterbury physically, socially, and economically and will have a real environmental impact—and it already is. This is about a massive super-dam, land confiscation, gigantic water-races cutting through historical properties, and an energy-guzzling intensive irrigation scheme. It is about yet more intensive dairying in a region already struggling with the environmental and social impact of existing levels of dairying. Given all of these downsides, it is no wonder that Cantabrians are nervous about embracing the Government vision of yet more dairying for the region.
This is why it is so important that Cantabrians have the right to have a say. Real justice and truly sustainable economic development will happen only when people and the Government work in partnership. This is why the Green Party absolutely opposes this bill. Thank you.
- Debate interrupted.