Fast Track Approvals Bill

On 19 April TINZ made a submission on the proposed Fast-Track Approvals Bill.  Our current and past submissions on legislation, fast track processes and parliamentary processes sit within our assessment and monitoring of the health of New Zealand’s National Integrity Systems, with legislature and parliament being pillars of integrity across these systems.

This Bill raises concerns around democratic decision-making, the principle of the separation of powers, increased power of the Executive, participation and overall transparency. 

The public reasonably expects demonstrably fair decision-making and due process to be at the heart of our democracy.  This proposed legislation is not in keeping with that reasonable expectation.Where power to circumvent legislation is assumed by the Executive it should be limited in scope, timebound, enable transparency and have additional checks put in place. We urge the government to strengthen those balances and checks in the legislation, in consultation with the Solicitor-General and other relevant agencies.

TINZ is one of many voices in expressing concerns.  Organisations across business, civil society and public agencies have highlighted flaws in the Bill. They consistently recommended more checks and balances to protect democratic rights, private property rights, independent oversight and judicial review.  Just a few of the organisations are the Auditor-General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the New Zealand Initiative, Federated Farmers, Greenpeace and Forest and Bird, the Law Society, the New Zealand Planning Institute and Sustainable Business Network. 

It is clear that the Environment Select Committee needs to rethink core elements of the Bill. Our CEO spoke on TINZ’s key points on Checkpoint.

The proposed legislation is not in keeping with the public’s reasonable expectation of demonstrably fair decision-making and due process which is the heart of our democracy. 

Instead it will generate conflicting interests for Ministers. 

It also challenges the principle of the separation of powers, which expects each branch of the

government to perform only those functions associated with that branch and not intrude into or assume the functions of another branch. In order to maintain a separation, those making the law (parliament) should be wary of directing how that law will be enforced. 

Under the proposed legislation, projects that may be under consideration may not be publicly known about and there are limited opportunities for involvement of the general public in the decision-making process. The draft bill curtails engagement by the Expert Panel and limits the groups that the Panel, applicants and Minister are required to consult with. The likely outcome is an overall reduction in information and local expertise that usually informs approval processes .Special interests’ influence will be stronger at the expense of the general public’s benefit.

Considering the sizable shift of power that this legislation proposes, it must also include greater transparency. There needs to be a requirement for Ministers to publicly disclose applications or approvals, and the information received in respect of those applications.

The application and decision-making process should be fully open to Official Information Act requests.  Clause 29 effectively establishes an OIA exemption. TINZ recommends that clause 29(4) be removed from the bill. Alternatively, it should be amended by adding a new sub-clause 29(5) that states “Nothing in this section limits the Official Information Act 1982 and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987

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