As noted in the press release I’ve reproduced in full below, conservation orders effectively protect NZ’s most iconic and ecologically important rivers as though they are national parks. There are only fifteen in all of NZ.

That’s why it is so startling that the National-led Government, in its emergency legislation ostensibly designed to improve water management in Canterbury, has also effectively gutted conservation orders for the region, raising a specter for entire country … with no public consultation or justification.

In the process, the Government has also killed the credibility of its own Land and Water Forum, which was on a considered path, including all stakeholders, to formulating an integrated land and water use strategy.

Hawke’s Bay has one river protected by a conservation order — the Mohaka.

I’m hoping MPs Tremain and Foss can tell us precisely what kind of protection we can expect for the Mohaka in the future, when their party appears to be disposed to unilaterally gut conservation orders.

Here is the release from five of NZ’s most mainstream conservation and environmental organizations … Environmental Defence Society, Ecologic, Fish & Game, Whitewater NZ and Forest & Bird

Government torpedoes own flagship water reform group

Five leading environmental and outdoor recreation groups said today that the Government legislation on water conservation orders passed yesterday under urgency has sent a torpedo into the Government-backed national forum working on water management reform.

The groups said the Government’s legislation to replace Environment Canterbury includes provisions that reduce the statutory protection of iconic rivers, opening them up for dams and irrigation use.

The water bodies immediately affected are the Rakaia, Rangitata and Ahuriri Rivers and Lakes Coleridge and Ellesmere, along with the application for protection of the Hurunui River, which was awaiting a hearing in the Environment Court.

The five groups said this change was pushed through parliament without any warning or consultation with the Land and Water Forum, which the Government set up last year to work on water management reforms that would be good for the economy and the environment.

“The Land and Water Forum has been the best environmental and governance initiative of this Government to date, but that is now in jeopardy following this major breach of trust from the Government,” Environmental Defence Society (EDS) chair Gary Taylor said.

The five groups – EDS, Ecologic, Fish & Game, Whitewater NZ and Forest & Bird – said it is hard to see how the forum can continue as a collaborative and trusting process after yesterday’s law change.

“Changing the rules for water conservation orders was not needed to fix any problems at Environment Canterbury. This Bill was used as cover to smuggle in a change in the law equivalent to allowing mining in national parks,” Ecologic executive director Guy Salmon said.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said: “A water conservation order is a national park for a river – there are only 15 in existence, but they provide bottom-line protection to just a few of our most precious and iconic wild waterways.”

Whitewater NZ patron Hugh Canard said: “Conservation orders are a national-level protection tool – just like national parks – and so it is utterly wrong to change their protection through a law about one region. Is the Government really saying that not one of our wild rivers is worth protecting?”

Forest & Bird general manager Mike Britton said: “The changes to the water conservation orders are as significant as the Schedule 4 mining issue – and to make it even worse the law has been changed with no consultation and no Select Committee process at all.”

“The new law is a giant kick in the guts for the thousands of Kiwi hunters and anglers who have collectively invested millions of dollars through the Fish & Game Council and other environment groups in securing protection for the select few rivers and lakes with conservation orders,” said Bryce Johnson.

“I would like to know whether industry groups – with whom we have worked so well within the forum – have been lobbying behind the forum’s back, despite the Ministers’ directive that that was not to happen. Or has the Government simply taken upon itself to leave the forum high and dry?”

Mike Britton said: “Forest & Bird considers the forum to be the sole good initiative of this Government on conservation, but its actions yesterday in unilaterally gutting our main river protection law seeks to destroy the only progress that was being made to protect our unique natural environment.”

The Land and Water Forum was established in 2009 by the Government to allow the three key sectors with an interest in water management – commercial, public and iwi – to reach consensus on reforms. It is funded by the Government and based on the Scandinavian model of ‘collaborative governance’ promoted by the National Party.

“The Government cannot ask stakeholders to behave in a collaborative manner unless it is prepared to behave in the same way itself,” said Guy Salmon.”

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4 Comments

  1. Bay Buzz has grown in three years to be a real assett in knowing what is going on in the name of transparent democracy.

    In its own words on launching in July 2007 it is rattling the cages

    of governance. My recent exposures of the inevitable demise of the Tuki and why has done just that rattle cages.

    Without that the deception of the public on the trout kills in the Tuki would have continued that was portrayed in an article published in the HB Today on March the 5th and oppression of the cause since.

    HBRC indicated pollutants were ruled out in causing the deaths of trout and the drastic decline in the ecology of the river. They knew

    the cause was the world established long term exposure to Indoctrine chemicals that destroy the imune system and have acknowleged that to me since that artical and denial appeared.

    There has been no response to my revelations in answer to attempts at jusify secrecy in public money expenditure.

    There has been a feeble attempt to take me on board on a conditional criteria I cease blowing the whistle. To those who tried my answer is you work for me and I am your master with the rest of the people. the same applies to elected members. You are not there as lawyers for the defense of staff you are the peoples police force

    Mismanagement of the waterways and water resources is a major reason for the government sacking of the Canterbury Regional council last week.

    On the criteria used to execute that and impose 7 government appointees it could so easily have been applied to HBRC

    This sacking is followed by the sweeping aside of a peoples interest collective as detailed in Toms posting so what is the hidden agenda national came into power on when mining the fragile conservation estate is more than a passing thought.

    As a licence holder who has watched from the banks the demise of a world class fishery to insignificance and the Mohaka under major threat for use as hydro power again. I have reservations with Fish & Game

    It was set up by Government to replace the Acclimatisation Societies who created the world class fisheries. Under F&G many have been reduced to insignificance in the space of 20 years.

    This is the same period the 1989 Local Authority Amalgamation Act did away with Catchement Boards and County Authorities and replaced them with Regional Councils.

    I stated at the time it was part of a long term agenda of State Control of natural resources and exploitation of these making fat cats fatter and the people deprived of their heritage.

    Keep the information flowing. My fear is the late entry of Bay Buzz and peoples indoctrinated apathy will not stop the the momentum of dictatoral governance within a democratic facade.

    Rapid breakdown of law and order is a symptom of the disease

    of increasing dictatoral governance. It is a seconary infection from

    anti democratic polutants like the fungus growths on Tuki trout.

  2. This should be a wake up call to all those who still trust this Government.

    Environment Canterbury has dysfunction problems (bit like our DHB when it was sacked) but replacement with Government appointees until 2013 kills democratic representation and smothers public consultation for over 3 years. In the meantime irreversible decisions will be made about the future of Canterbury water.

    To effect this coup d'etat the legislation was passed in urgency, with scant opportunity for debate in the House, and no public consultation. Dumping statutory protection of waterways, and in the process giving the fingers to the Land and Water Forum, should give a clear warning to all Regional Councils that their environmental protection role is under threat from this Government.

  3. Is there any legislation ,implemented in the last 25 years ,for the betterment of of this country ,that this government wont be reversing ?

  4. In case you missed it- Rod Oram on ECan from Sunday Star Times:

    Sacked ECan board was no damp squib

    By ROD ORAM – Sunday Star Times

    04/04/2010

    OPINION: CLEARLY THE Key government loves to create havoc and enemies over local government and natural resources.

    Fresh from stripping voters' influence over Auckland's regional governance and picking a fight over mining conservation land, it has sacked Canterbury's regional councillors and poisoned the process aimed at finding more sensible ways to manage New Zealand's water resources.

    It is frightening how easy it was for Local Government Minister Rodney Hide and Environment Minister Nick Smith to deal to Canterbury. All they had to do was to appoint Wyatt Creech, a dairy industry investor and former National Party politician, to head a panel to review the performance of Environment Canterbury then sit back and wait for his report.

    Sure enough, Creech and colleagues delivered in double-quick time a damning indictment of ECan. They concluded that the gap between what was required of it on water issues and what it was capable of delivering is "enormous and unprecedented".

    In fact ECan was such a basket case, it argued, that its "failure requires comprehensive and rapid intervention on the part of central government to protect and enhance both regional and national well-being."

    There was, though, a minor inconvenience, the panel conceded. Whatever the shortcomings of the council, it had not breached its duties under either the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Act so the only way to boot out the councillors was by passing emergency legislation.

    The government obliged last week, appointing Dame Margaret Bazley as chief commissioner of the region. She will be joined by up to six more commissioners. They will run the council until 2013 at the latest.

    This is an appalling abuse by the government of power, process and good sense, not to mention voters' rights.

    The problems start with the Creech Report itself. It spends its first 48 pages faithfully reporting all the complaints of ECan's critics. Two camps dominate the short list of parties it interviewed:

    The region's local councils, some of which have long lobbied to disband the regional council so they can become unitary authorities. Christchurch and Timaru lead the movement. Yet, apart from a letter to the ministers and a hastily concocted list of complaints about ECan, they offered no substantive written evidence of its alleged failings. But if they get their way we can give up any hope of achieving integrated and sustainable resource management across the Canterbury plain.

    Farmer-led organisations pushing very hard for more water storage and irrigation. Since 2002, the number of cows in Canterbury has increased by 60.5%, the report notes. That's an additional 239,000 cows, which account for 47% of the growth of the national herd. No wonder the region has escalating issues with water allocation and effluent. The RMA can't

    These critics told the panel that the regional council is "dysfunctional" because it is, among other things, deadlocked between seven councillors who are pro-development and seven who are pro-environment; let down by substandard and "arrogant" staff; negligent in the performance of its statutory obligations; obstructive to the courts and incapable of a constructive relationship with its 10 local councils.

    Having faithfully detailed the critics' complaints, the report then concedes it can't find any evidence for some of the accusations. Next, it actually looks at ECan's performance and finds reality is a whole lot better than the perception put about by its critics.

    A deadlocked council? No. For example it voted 10 to two to support the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. It is the region's best hope for involving all parties in collaborative allocation and management of water, thereby achieving a sustainable economy and environment.

    Obsessed about being a hard-line environmental regulator at the expense of other drivers? No. It's done a good job on the region's urban development, energy, transport and biodiversity strategies, among others. All ECan's non-water responsibilities "we believe are well executed", the panel concluded.

    Poor relationships with other councils? No. They have improved a lot, particularly under Alec Neill, its current chair, the panel says.

    Lousy service standards? The 2007/08 Ministry for the Environment national survey of local government did find that ECan met its statutory timetable commitments on only 29% of resource consents. But the panel concedes "there are some valid reasons why the timeframe compliance was low." The council was swamped by claims to irrigation water before the region ran out. It is close to fully allocating many water sources and has already over-allocated some to the detriment of the environment.

    The panel also concedes that ECan had increased its consents staff from 35 to 57 and "improved processes and systems". ECan's goal was to meet timelines on more than 95% of consents within 12 months. "It is considered that if ECan continues with this approach its survey result in the next MfE survey will be significantly improved."

    Having failed to prove that ECan is anywhere near as bad as its critics contend, the review panel then goes on to make two extraordinary assertions.

    Firstly, that the RMA is perfectly capable of handling the two big problems with managing water resources: the intensifying competition between users for the fast-dwindling volume of water left to allocate and the cumulative effect whereby each consent to take water from a river or aquifer may seem small and reasonable on its own but in aggregate they tip it into unsustainability.

    Thus, the reviewers argue, the problem is the council not the legislation so sack the councillors, override voters and bang in commissioners. But the government says the RMA is failing to deal with those issues and has embarked on a raft of changes, is designing an Environmental Protection Agency to take some powers and responsibilities from local government and is seeking, through the Land and Water Forum, new collaborative ways to handle these issues.

    Secondly, the panel argued for creating a Canterbury Regional Water Authority to take over all freshwater issues. That is a crazy idea. You can't deal with water in isolation from resource, environmental and economic issues as it would go against the integrated resource management of past decades.

    Thankfully, the government says it won't decide whether structural change is needed at ECan until the Land and Water Forum delivers in mid-year its recommendations for new collaborative water mechanisms for the whole country and the government has decided how extensive it will make the EPA's national powers.

    Actually, ECan has made great progress pioneering new ways to resolve these very difficult water issues. The centrepiece is the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, the result of ECan's painstaking work. The strategy has the potential to promote sustainable water use that will aid economic growth.

    But to make it work, ECan needed the government to modify the RMA and Local Government acts. It had also sought, but failed to receive, from this government and its predecessor other legislative help to do its job better.

    Then last week National acted by modifying the acts to create some of those powers. But instead of handing them to the elected councillors, it used the Creech report as a flimsy excuse for replacing them.

    Such high-handed tactics only fuel suspicions that the government, which has made more irrigation a plank of its economic platform, is siding with landowners who consider their water allocations are property rights to be protected at all costs and those who are pushing for damming more rivers. So much for collaboration, the only hope for sustainable water use.

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