Is National determined to make a special “Ruataniwha law” that allows for… anything?

Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges has rebuffed allegations the Government has been secretly working on plans that would undermine environmental protections to push through contentious projects.

Two months after Forest and Bird released information showing the Government was working on mining plans for the ecologically valuable Buller Plateau, the environment group this week published documents detailing 18 months of work around special economic zones (SEZs), which were first proposed several years ago.

The group claimed that these zones would provide new powers to push through contentious developments, including coal mining on the Buller Plateau, and also take conservation land and private land, provide tax breaks for favoured developers, and override overseas investment and immigration controls.

“We’re talking about zones where normal environmental, social and democratic safeguards don’t apply,” chief executive Kevin Hague said.

The documents, released under the Official Information Act, showed officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment advised ministers not to proceed with SEZs due to significant “social licence” issues and risk of litigation.

They showed that Prime Minister Bill English, while Finance Minister, and Steven Joyce, while Economic Development Minister, favoured SEZs.

The zones are also backed by Local Government New Zealand, the New Zealand Initiative thinktank and some district councils.

“If this went ahead, anywhere the Government wanted to carry out development – they could,” Hague said.

“Roading through National Parks, irrigation dams, energy generation, aquaculture, controversial tourism developments – you name it.”

There is no doubt that environmental groups like Forest and Bird always push for an outcome that sees nothing done to anything. ?They are essentially against all humans and human activity. ?Which is fine for an advocacy group.

And there is marginal conservation land and other non-conservation land that nevertheless has high intrinsic communal value that must at least be considered for economic development.

But as we’ve seen with the dodgy Ruataniwha Dam, this government was quite happy to turn public conservation land into a lake in exchange for some farmland to benefit a handful of farmers.

Allegedly secret plans to make new laws that allow future governments to get around protections in place around our conservation estate is a very dangerous precedent. ? And I would call Forest and Bird on being scaremongering bulldusters if it wasn’t for Bill English saying he would just change the law to make Ruataniwha happen.

Readers know I’m all for drilling, mining and whatever it takes to benefit from our natural resources. ?This should not be a “never, ever” situation as it has almost become now. ? There are many ways that resources can be extracted with minimal impact.

But it needs to be done in a balanced way. ?Just like we do not accept a position of no development at all, we may equally reject the idea of a government that writes laws so it no longer has to live by the rules we all agreed on in the first place.


– NZ Herald