New law puts NZ on fast-track to environmental destruction

Image of a digger
© Luke Besley
Press Release

The World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Zealand has slammed the Government’s new fast-track consenting legislation, calling it an unprecedented assault on nature and democracy.

The Fast-Track Approvals Bill, which is being introduced to Parliament today, will give Ministers unprecedented sweeping powers to green-light new infrastructure projects such as coal mines and fish farms, while turning a blind-eye to the impacts they could have on the environment and local communities.

“This Bill is at the heart of the Coalition Government's systematic attack on our natural world,” says WWF New Zealand’s CEO Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb.

“Such an egregious assault on our environmental laws and democratic processes was never part of their election campaign and has taken us all by surprise. New Zealanders didn’t vote to trash our iconic landscapes and consign our threatened species to extinction simply for a boost in export revenue and a few expedited developments.

“It’s astonishing that this Government would choose to prioritise lining the pockets of private developers at the expense of the environment we all depend on, particularly at a time when climate change and nature loss pose unprecedented risk,” she says.

The new fast-track regime is being touted as the solution to lengthy consent processes, but Dr Kingdon-Bebb says it will instead pave the way for Ministers to approve pet-projects without proper scrutiny or environmental checks and balances, and open them up to opportunities for corruption.

“It’s deeply concerning for our democracy that Ministers will be able to approve their pet-projects without fully considering the advice of experts or the views of the communities that will be affected.

“It’s placing unbridled power in the hands of a handful of development-focused Ministers, cutting the public out of decision-making, undermining the rights and interests of tangata whenua, and running roughshod over New Zealand’s Treaty obligations,” she says.

The full list of projects set to be fast-tracked has not yet been published, although Ministers have previously hinted at new coal mines on public conservation land, seabed mining projects, and irrigation dams as among those being considered.

Some of the projects will already have been declined by expert independent panels or the Courts because of their impacts on the environment, yet under the new legislation they could be rammed through without any changes.

In the short time-frame for the Bill's development, there will not be enough time to allow for Ministers or the Government’s Fast Track Advisory Group to meaningfully assess their merits, risks or environmental impacts, WWF argues.

Projects that could be fast-tracked include a new coal mine at Te Kuha on the South Island’s West Coast. The area is public conservation land and home to endangered species like the great spotted kiwi - and the proposal has already been overturned by the Courts on the grounds it would cause irreversible damage to a precious and rare ecosystem.

“Opening up any new coal mine in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis is utterly irresponsible, but it just defies all belief that the Government would consider opening new coal mines on public conservation land. New Zealanders will not sit by while developers tear up kiwi habitats, trash our unique and threatened landscapes, and push species that are already in crisis to the brink of extinction,” says Dr Kingdon-Bebb.

“New Zealanders have marched in the tens of thousands before to protest mining on public conservation land, and since then climate change-related disasters like Cyclone Gabrielle have shown us the true costs of our environmental negligence. The Government has seriously underestimated the strength of public opposition they are going to see from Kiwis.

“The world has woken up to the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, yet New Zealand’s leaders seem intent on closing their eyes to these challenges and putting the profits of a few above a healthy environment for future generations of Kiwis. Their war on nature will not go unnoticed - or unopposed.”