Submissions closed on Friday for the Government’s Fast Track Approvals Bill, which basically would remove all environmental checks on Ministers’ favourite development projects.

It will replace a Labour Government fast track process that most observers felt struck an appropriate balance between speeding up independently vetted projects of major significance and maintaining necessary environmental protections.

Environmental Defence Society says, “What is clear from the Bill is that it’s a fake premise, purporting to speed up decision-making when its real purpose is to enable environmental harm with impunity.

“Ministers will have unprecedented powers to approve pet projects. The public will be precluded from having any say. Development is given absolute priority in an astonishingly unbalanced set of decision-making criteria.”

Dame Anne Salmond calls the Bill “a naked power grab – an assault on democratic checks and balances in New Zealand, and a shift towards authoritarian governance by ministerial fiat.”

One of the three ministers with special power under the proposed Bill is Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones, an ardent advocate of dams. Says Jones in Farmers Weekly, “Water storage attracts a lot of criticism but I’m not interested in climate cultists, I am only interested in adaptation and future proofing the primary sector … I think we should have a NZ-wide network of water storage.”

Of course there are water storage schemes that (dare I say) hold water, and others that don’t. That’s true of all development projects. But that’s clearly too nuanced an assessment for Minister Jones, and under the new Bill, what he says goes.

Some projects slated for fast tracking will be identified and embedded directly in the legislation, but the Government has declined to reveal those, so they will escape the normal public scrutiny the submission and hearing process would afford, let alone any public or expert external review afterwards.

Dame Salmond nailed it … as power grabs go, it doesn’t get more naked than this. One has to marvel at its sheer audacity.

All there is to do now is watch how our local MP Katie Nimon, a member of the Environment Committee comports herself through all this … and then wait for the announcement of HB’s fast track ‘winners’.

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