Hansard and Journals
Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill — First Reading
[Sitting date: 13 October 2015. Volume:709;Page:7122. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I move, That the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Local Government and Environment Committee to consider the bill. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be reported to the House by 15 February 2016. This bill is about the Government sensibly transitioning Environment Canterbury back to a fully elected council. It is deliberately designed to ensure and maintain the momentum of the step change in how water is managed in Canterbury and to ensure it is consistent with the Government’s work of transitioning Canterbury back to normalcy following the trauma to that region from the Canterbury earthquakes. It is designed to ensure a smooth transition from the excellent work of the commissioners to a fully elected council in 2019 by providing for a 7:6 split of elected to appointed councillors for the next local government term.
The bill needs some context and history, because some of the commentary wants to ignore the problems of dysfunctionality that led to the Government reluctantly intervening in Environment Canterbury in 2010. The problems in 2010 at Environment Canterbury were deep-seated, had gone on for years, and could no longer be ignored. Firstly, the council had failed on water management. You cannot talk about New Zealand freshwater issues without reference to issues in Canterbury because it is where 70 percent of irrigation occurs, it is where we have the biggest problems over freshwater quality, and it is where more than half of New Zealand’s hydroelectricity is produced.
The Resource Management Act relies on regional plans to manage water, but Environment Canterbury had proved incapable, in 19 years, of getting plans in place. The previous Government had to pass special legislation to try to get progress on a water plan for the Waitaki River. The 10 local councils had become so frustrated that they promoted the Canterbury Water Management Strategy to try to get progress. People who claim in this Parliament that they want New Zealand to manage freshwater quality and allocation better but who have opposed the Government’s very attempts to do so through interventions in Environment Canterbury are being both disingenuous and dishonest with the electorate about the need for New Zealand to improve water management.
I contrast this historic non-performance with the progress that Environment Canterbury has made over the past 5 years. The council has gone from being a laggard to being a leader. The Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan is in place and work is progressing at pace, consistent with the water management strategy, with specific limits and rules in each of the 10 zones.
Let me specifically outline the progress that we have made with water that would not have been possible without the Government’s interventions. Firstly, there would be no land and water regional plan without the specific provisions in the law that we have put in place in 2010, and there would not be the collaborative process in each of those 10 zones that are putting the rules in place. There would not be the hundreds of millions of dollars currently being invested right now in the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme without the specific provisions in our law in 2010—opposed by members opposite—that help with water management by using those huge, big Canterbury rivers rather than extracting all the water from the very limited aquifers.
Thirdly, there would not have been the prohibition on takes in those red zones; that is only possible by the Government’s intervention. There would not be the huge investments that are going into the clean-up of Lake Ellesmere and Lake Wainono, and I challenge members opposite: those lakes have not suddenly become polluted; they have been polluted for decades, and Labour did zip during its 9 years. It really takes gall for those members to stand on their feet today and criticise our efforts around water quality, noting the progress that has been made with those significant water bodies. I also point out the progress in even metering water. When we came into Government, less than a third of the water was even metered in Canterbury, and now that is over 80 percent.
The problems in Environment Canterbury went well beyond the issues of just water. Environment Canterbury had the worst record of 78 councils, with 77 percent of consents not being processed on time. I note that rather than 77 percent not being processed on time, that number is now below 2 percent, and Canterbury is one of the very best performers. In fact, it got a public sector award for excellence earlier this year.
The third area of concern was the complete breakdown in relationships between Environment Canterbury and the 10 councils in Canterbury. It was so bad that all 10 mayors of Canterbury wrote to the Government specifically asking for the intervention. This dysfunctionality between Canterbury’s regional and territorial authorities was holding the region back. We did not know, when we intervened in March of 2010, that only a few months later it would be hit by the Canterbury earthquakes. It was fortuitous that we had made that intervention and rebuilt those relationships because the region would have been incapable of being able to respond to those huge challenges without the regional and local authorities working together. It is a telling tribute to Dame Margaret Bazley, her fellow commissioners, and the 10 councils of Canterbury, that far from the dysfunctionality that we inherited from the previous Government, the council has now produced an economic recovery plan for Canterbury, jointly and together, and this House should stand by Canterbury and this bill in supporting it.
This bill will provide for a mix of seven councillors to be elected from four constituencies across the Canterbury communities, and the appointment of up to six councillors by Government. I have had representations from the Māori Party specifically for Ngāi Tahu’s interests to be recognised. We take that on board and we appreciate its support for this bill coming into the House to ensure there is a smooth transition in Canterbury.
Let me point out the four important reasons for this bill. Why would we in Canterbury suddenly change the direction by 100 percent of the governance of Environment Canterbury, given its chequered record? Why would we not provide for a smooth transition, with those commissioners’ skills being able to be transferred forward as we work through both those water challenges and those earthquake challenges? Members opposite are more interested in playing politics than supporting the reconstruction of Canterbury and the challenges that go with the earthquake.
Secondly, the job around water is not done. Yes, the regional plan is in place but we need to retain those special Resource Management Act powers and the continuity of the work of commissioners to get those zone plans in place that are so critical. I think we would all acknowledge—and in fact the former Minister Jim Anderton openly acknowledged—that Environment Canterbury had a real problem of head-butting between rural and urban Canterbury. We on this side of the House believe that, actually, urban Christchurch and rural Canterbury must work together to deliver a blue-green outcome around water that supports the growth of the economy but also improves the management and the quality of the water. This plan, of ensuring that transition, is part of achieving just that.
This bill provides for a smooth transition to 2019, when there will be full elections. We need to provide the continuity back. I am not going to take speeches from members opposite giving us lectures around democracy when previous Labour Governments have stepped in in places like Hawke’s Bay and sacked district health boards, and when members opposite have stepped into other councils and intervened. I say to members opposite, just as it was justifiable to intervene sometimes in authorities, the circumstances in Canterbury absolutely required the intervention. That has been proved by the very satisfactory progress that has been made in the intervening period.
I want to conclude by again reinforcing this Government’s thanks to Dame Margaret Bazley and the full set of commissioners who have done a superb job in rebuilding relationships with councils, in rebuilding a very constructive relationship with Ngāi Tahu, and with the work they have done both around water and earthquakes. I say to members opposite who wish to oppose this bill, they are opposing the reconstruction of Canterbury and the earthquake recovery, and they are opposing the real progress that this country, and particularly Canterbury, wants to make on water, and they should hide their heads in shame.
Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram): Labour is opposing this bill, but I can assure the Minister who has just taken his seat, the Hon Dr Nick Smith, and everybody, that we are not opposing the reconstruction of Christchurch. Actually, it is on this side of the House that we believe that part of the reconstruction and recovery of Canterbury and of Christchurch is about power going back to Cantabrians. It is about Cantabrians having a say in their future, and not central control from Wellington.
Not much of what stood in 2010 in Cathedral Square remains today. There are a few things, and one of those things that remain standing in Cathedral Square is a cairn that was erected by people when democracy was sacked by Nick Smith in Canterbury in 2010. This was a monument that was erected by people from all around the region bringing stones from all our rivers so that it would not be moved until democracy was restored in Canterbury. Well, that cairn is going nowhere because this bill is not the restoration of democracy. This bill is a continuation of central government control of a region.
Nothing that the Minister for the Environment said today, either in fact or in logic, justified why it is that Canterbury will have a regional council governance structure that is different from everywhere else in the country—nothing that Nick Smith said justified that today. He tried to say “Well, Labour did it.”—it seems to be all that National can say in response to everything. Yes, when Labour was in Government, when there were problems we as a Government did step up and we did what was necessary; we certainly did not withhold democracy for 9 years at a time, which is what the legislation that we are debating here today in effect will do. That democracy was always restored, at the latest, at the next triennial election.
And let us not forget that actually the Minister who has just taken his seat promised Cantabrians in 2010 that they would have democracy restored in 2013. He did not do it in 2013 and he most certainly is not doing it in this legislation here today. Let us bear in mind that this is a Minister who has labelled democracy as carrying too many risks. This is a Minister who told The Timaru Herald that he was worried about the outcome—the outcome being the decisions of a democratically elected council. Everybody in New Zealand should be worried today—not just the people of Canterbury whom this legislation impacts on, but everybody. Because this is a Government that is willing to sack elected bodies if it does not like what they are doing and replace them with its own appointees. It simply is not good enough and it is not something that we are willing to put up with.
The other thing that really concerns me, and I have tabled an amendment to this, is the report-back time that the Minister has described on this bill: a report-back time of 15 February 2016. This puts it in the 4 to 6 month category, which means there will be no vote. There will be a vote, but no separate debate on that part of the legislation. Given that this period that the Minister described includes the New Year break, when the House does not sit for 7 or 8 weeks, it leaves, effectively, a select committee consideration of little more than 2 months. This is simply not acceptable. This is about a Parliament stripping away democratic rights, and to put in place with that a truncated select committee process is reprehensible and something that should not be allowed to stand. Either the usual 6-week period for receiving submissions will have to be shortened—and that is not acceptable to Labour members—or there would be only 1 week to hear submissions. Again, that is not acceptable to Labour members.
We know that with predecessors to this legislation, when the Government has previously legislated to take away the right of Cantabrians to control their own destiny, actually Cantabrians have wanted to have their voice heard—and we have a Government that not only is putting in place legislative measures to stop that happening, when it should have been fully democratic elections at the 2016 triennials, but also it wants to truncate the select committee process. So I ask the Government, and any other support parties, to at least consider voting to allow this to have a full and proper select committee process, so that Cantabrians will have the right to be heard and they will not be stifled by this Government, because, as the bill stands at the moment, they will be. This is an absolute travesty.
This is the continuation of central control of Canterbury by this Government. Appointing nearly half the councillors in no way, shape, or form represents a return to democracy. The Minister likes to dress it up, and “mixed model” is what he has come to. It is like being a little bit pregnant—being a little bit democratic, I guess. It simply is not the case. This is not democracy; this is the Government maintaining its sticky fingers in the affairs of Canterbury in a way that it does nowhere else in the country. And it is an insult to the people of Canterbury. We are more than capable of governing ourselves, of electing representatives who will make decisions for the good of our province, like every other place in this country—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about Hawke’s Bay health?
Dr MEGAN WOODS: —and Cantabrians are more than capable of doing that. The Minister is heckling across the House: “What about Hawke’s Bay?”. We did not deny democracy there for 9 years. Democratically elected councillors were restored. So the Minister’s continued justifications are weak and they do not stand up, as I said, in either logic or fact. The Minister is on very weak ground here and he knows it.
What we also know is that the Minister has made a big hoopla about how we simply cannot afford to lose the skills base that is currently sitting around the Environment Canterbury table. This is the case with any council in a triennial election. In fact, it is the case with any member when they stand in 3-yearly parliamentary elections. So I want to know from Government members about the fear of losing skilled people. Should we cancel all elections, or is this something that is going to count only in Canterbury? Are there special rules for Canterbury? I want to know whether this is something that the Government is planning to roll out in other places in the country. If the real fear that the Minister has is that we will lose institutional knowledge and skills, there are alternatives other than denying Cantabrians the right to control their region. There are many things that the Government could do rather than rush to this decision. For one, institutional knowledge is carried through by staff, and commissioners could have been employed in some way to sit alongside elected members. So the Minister’s justifications simply do not stack up.
The Minister was quite right when he said that this is legislation about the regulation and management of water use in Canterbury, and he derides the last council and talks about what a bad job it did. I think that so much ink has been spilt showing how this was actually just a justification that the Minister manufactured back in 2010. Actually, the Government had a target of 80 percent of the rivers in Canterbury being swimmable. Back in 2010, 74 percent of them were swimmable, when our council was sacked. Today only 67 percent of Canterbury rivers are swimmable. Is this the blue-green future that the Minister is proposing—that we have a reduction in the swimmability of our rivers? I want more. I want to actually have a commitment to having swimmable rivers, and not to have set in place a process that is going to ensure that we do not have them.
Treasury told the Minister that he was not putting forward a solid case and that he was not putting forward a range of options—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish.
Dr MEGAN WOODS: —to be consulted on. It is in the regulatory impact statement, Minister. It is there, in black and white. Treasury told you that you needed to put out a range of options. It is a pity the Minister did not read it at the time, or his discussion document may have actually had more impact. Cantabrians made it clear at that point of the process that they did not want this imposed model from the Minister as the way of governing our future. We have a fantastic future in Canterbury. It is part of our restoration. Let the people of Canterbury—
SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel): As chairman of the Local Government and Environment Committee, it gives me enormous pleasure to actually speak to the first reading of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill in the name of the Minister for the Environment, the Hon Nick Smith.
The answers to many of the questions that the previous member, Dr Megan Woods, has been asking about this bill actually lie in the title of the bill. It is a transitional governance arrangement—a transitional governance arrangement for the people of Canterbury. It is moving the people of Canterbury from what was back in 2008—in fact, prior to 2008, at the tail end of the last Labour Government’s administration—a state of complete dysfunctionality in terms of where the governance of Environment Canterbury was for Canterbury.
That was prior to the earthquakes in Canterbury, which came following that dysfunctionality. It just beggars belief to think that the situation that existed prior to this Government taking the leadership action that was required to sort out the governance issues in Canterbury on this important matter—if that had not occurred, and then we had had the earthquakes, as I say, it just beggars belief to think about what the consequences might have been.
So I would ask this of the member who has just resumed her seat: why is it that the Labour Party does not want to listen to the local mayors? Why is it that the Labour Party does not want to take notice of what the local government leaders in Canterbury are saying? There are 10 mayors in the Canterbury region, and, of that 10, six of them support this legislation. Six of them support this transitional governance arrangement that will take us through to the 2019 elections.
Of those who are not in that group of six local mayors who support this legislation, one of them wanted to keep all the commissioners and wanted to keep the status quo that we have currently, and that is clearly not going to happen. One of them wanted to elect straight away, a new return to democracy—just one wanted to go back to the process that the Labour Party is calling for. Two of them were agnostic or did not actually express a view. So when you analyse the support across the 10 local government bodies in the Canterbury region, six of the 10 support this legislation.
The question I have for the Labour Party is: why is it listening to just one of those local government organisations in Canterbury? Before the central government stepped into this mess that was Environment Canterbury, there was absolute evidence of severe underperformance in the Canterbury region. The previous Government actually, I am told, considered taking steps but deferred the opportunity to do so in the run-up to the 2008 election. That Government actually abrogated its responsibility to take a leadership role and do something about what was painfully, obviously a huge problem in Canterbury.
It was not until after this Government was elected in 2008 that action was taken to appoint the commissioners. I want to express my thanks and praise for the work that the commissioners have done in turning what was an absolute dog’s breakfast and a mess into something that is now well along the way to being best practice and something that I think Canterbury and all New Zealanders can be proud of.
The main provisions of this bill really seek to establish a continued, timely development of a robust, clear, and effective framework for the management of fresh water in the Canterbury region. Nothing could be more important than that allocation of water to Canterbury people or, indeed, to all New Zealanders, because so much of New Zealand’s natural water resource is sourced from the Canterbury region.
Environment Canterbury has actually made huge progress in developing the comprehensive water plan that is required in supporting the earthquake recovery programme. To go now to this transitional stage, which will take us from 2016 through to the local government elections in 2019—this bill seeks to achieve that, and I think that that will be something that will be met with support from across the Canterbury region and, probably, great support from around the rest of the country.
I am very much looking forward to hearing submissions from Cantabrians at the select committee. I am looking forward to the process. I know that it will be vigorously debated, but it needs to be debated on the basis of fact and knowledge and certainty rather than hyperbole and exaggeration, which is the sort of thing that we see from Opposition members who are determined to dance on the head of a pin in order to oppose for the sake of opposition. This is a bill that I think has merit. I am looking forward to debating and discussing it at the select committee, and I commend its first reading to the House.
Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere): Earlier the Minister for the Environment instructed the Local Government and Environment Committee to report back on the bill in the House by 15 February 2016. This puts it in the 4 to 6 month category, meaning that there will be a vote but there will not be a separate debate on this issue. Given that this period includes the Christmas and New Year holiday, when the House does not sit, it effectively leaves the select committee consideration little more than 2 months. What we are looking at is that either the usual 6-week period of receiving submissions would have to be shortened, or there would be only 1 week of hearing submissions and only 2 weeks to consider the departmental report.
So the Minister, I would hope—if he really does believe in what he is saying—would want to amend his instruction to ensure that he gives ample time to the residents and citizens of the Canterbury region to come forward and to make submissions on this particular bill. When you take into consideration the Christmas and New Year holiday, I cannot help but wonder whether this was deliberate, because most citizens will be focused on the Christmas holidays and not on this bill, yet this is such a significant piece of legislation that I suspect citizens of the Christchurch region will want to have a say. I would ask the Minister to make the amendment and allow the citizens of Christchurch ample time to make submissions. I would tell the Minister to move the report-back date further out.
I say that because I want to challenge some of what the Minister has said. When I listened to the Minister I was listening intently because I genuinely wanted to hear the arguments, but I have heard that same argument over and over again. In fact, in the last 7 years since this Government came to be, I believe that it has gone out to deliberately undermine the local government sector. It has treated local government with disdain. It has not treated the people elected by the people with respect. It treats them with disdain. It treats them as if they were an extension of his Government ministry.
I say that because in 2010 we heard the Minister and that Government say that it was for only a short period that we were going to abolish and get rid of elected representatives—until 2013. In 2013 the Government tabled a similar piece of legislation, saying: “No, we are not going to elect people. We are now going to look to 2016.” Next year is 2016. Before 2016 the Government is tabling a similar piece of legislation, and what did the Minister say? He said: “We’re going to wait until 2019 before the citizens of the Christchurch region get the opportunity to elect their own representatives.”
Can we trust that word, given the pattern of 2010, 2013, and this year? Can we trust the Minister, and, in the same regard, can we trust the word of that particular Government when it comes to what it is saying today in this House? I would say no—I would say no. We do not know what is going to happen in 2019, but we certainly know that the promises made in 2010 were not kept in 2013 and that the promises he made in 2013 will not be kept this year, or next year, when the elections take place. So I have serious doubt that the promise he makes today in this House will be kept, come 2019.
So what is this all about? This is about this Government wanting to control who decides what happens to water in that region. This is about a Government that does not trust the people of the Canterbury region. It does not trust that they can make their own decisions as to what happens there.
I know my colleague from the Green Party Eugenie Sage was a member of that council, whose seat on that council was rudely abolished by this very Government.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Because they were incompetent.
Su’a WILLIAM SIO: She will probably give a more intimate, detailed description of what happened—not from the word of that particular Minister. He can say all he wants, but can we trust him? I say no. Based on the pattern that he has established in this House, you cannot trust this man here. You cannot trust this Government when it comes to local democracy.
Democracy is about trusting the people to make their own decisions. Rightly or wrongly, the people will make the decision.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did you sack the district health board in Hawke’s Bay?
Su’a WILLIAM SIO: Listen. I sat here listening to you; you will sit there and listen to me. Here is a man who now does not trust what he said himself and he is trying to defend the indefensible. If those members felt so strongly about maintaining proper decision-making here in Christchurch, why did they not do that up north in the Kaipara District, where there are some serious problems? They did not, because this is about protecting their own self-interests in the irrigation of water in the Christchurch region.
People in Christchurch will want to have a say on this, and I hope they are listening. I hope they are listening when I say that you cannot trust a Government that makes promises time and time again, and each time it makes that promise it then passes legislation to break that same promise that it makes. But democracy is important, and democracy is the foundation of local government. Local communities want to have a say on how their councils determine the direction and the future of where those local communities go. So I would say that if I was a Cantabrian I would feel that it is disgraceful the way this Government has used its powers to usurp the rights of communities to elect their representatives, which those communities have every right to do. They would be their local representatives, who would represent them and make the decisions that are best for that community and the future of the Canterbury region.
I understand that before this Government passed legislation in 2010 it had actually hatched up the agreement at a National Party conference. Why? Because, as I understand it and as it was reported to me by those in the know, this is about protecting personal interests—personal interests. So this is not about elected representatives on the Canterbury Council making bad decisions. This is about those members protecting their mates—protecting their interests over the interests of the wider community.
Tim Macindoe: Oh, here we go again.
Su’a WILLIAM SIO: Well, I can say this. Those members have not been straight with New Zealanders. They have not been straight from the beginning about Canterbury and the rights of Canterbury people to elect their own representatives.
So the mixed model—what is the mixed model? I like what my colleague Dr Megan Woods here said. She said that a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant. That is what Dr Megan Woods said. A person is not half-pregnant—a person is not half-pregnant—so what is this mixed model about? It is about maintaining the façade that we are transitioning into democracy, when the reality is that it is not going to happen. It is not going to happen. The Government has retained its right to be able to appoint six councillors on the regional council. As long as the Government has that ability to be able to appoint people on that regional council, it will also have the ability to control and to determine and to influence the decisions of that council in the years to come.
But the reality, I have also been told, is that even though the Government says today that this is a transitional provision and that in 2019 the region will be able to elect its own full council, it is my understanding that the Government has been advised by the Ministry for Primary Industries to retain the structure—to retain this mixed model of democracy of convenience for the Government. So I do not believe that we can trust any word that this Minister and his Government have laid out before the House.
Look to the pattern. In 2010 the same promise was made and broken again. In 2013 the same promise was made and broken again. This year we are hearing the same promise again—the promise that in 2019 the people of Canterbury will elect their representatives. I do not believe that that is ever going to happen, based on the pattern that the Government has established for itself.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I seek leave of the House to table the Cabinet paper in which the Government appointed commissioners to the Kaipara District Council, contrary to the false claims by the previous speaker.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Publicly available?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is a Cabinet paper.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is it available to members of the public?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Cabinet papers are not normally publicly available. They are not on a public—[Interruption]
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question has been answered.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Cabinet papers are not normally made publicly available, and given the inaccuracy that the previous speaker made in his speech I would just like to see the record set straight.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A simple question: is it publicly available now? Has it already been released?
Hon Annette King: He has not answered it yet.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Well, he has answered it as best as he can, he assures me, so I will put the leave. Leave is put for that purpose. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
JOANNE HAYES (National): I rise to take a short call on the first reading of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill. After sitting and having to endure the load of rubbish that came across from the Opposition just recently—and I am sad to see that the previous Labour speaker has actually left the Chamber. Honestly, when someone gets up in here talking about this bill and says “Why did the Government intervene? Why did you do this? Why did you do that?”, well, I think he forgets that Labour actually had it on its radar to do exactly what this National-led Government did.
I can also tell you the reason why our Government stepped in. The reason was that it was invited to come in by the councils. Of the 10 councils, there were six councils that came to Government to ask for intervention because things were going wrong, and that is why the previous councillors from Environment Canterbury back then actually got removed. It was because they were not performing in the roles that they were put into and that were voted on by the people who actually put them there, and that is why we are here today.
We are here today to put forward this bill. The main component of this bill—and I do want to take a little bit of time just to talk about this—is to establish a mixed-model governance body. People ask: “Oh, who wants a mixed-model governance body?”. Well, local government wants it—local government. Six out of 10 Canterbury councils supported the mixed governance model—that is, Ashburton, Timaru, Hurunui, Mackenzie, Waimakariri, and Waitaki—as did Ngāi Tahu, the iwi of the South Island, and TrustPower, Genesis Energy, and Irrigation New Zealand. They wanted this mixed-model proposal.
Federated Farmers also support the phased approach towards this mixed-model governance arrangement. What William Rolleston, the president of Federated Farmers, said was that “the commissioners had made difficult decisions that balanced the needs of farmers with environmental concerns”—that is, the hard work of the commissioners of today, capably led by the amazing Dame Margaret Bazley. That is where they have got to, and they will carry on until October 2016.
When I heard the member say that the people of the Canterbury region will not have an ability to elect—of course they will have that ability to elect in October 2016. The Government is making sure that with the people it is selecting to go on there, it is keeping up the experience and making sure that everything that has started now will continue over, so it is about keeping that experience there. The regulatory impact statement from the Department of Internal Affairs and the Ministry for the Environment states that they support the mixed-model governance for 2016—a 3-year local government term—because by 2019 that will expire. That is about giving the power back to the people of Canterbury.
In closing, I do want to reiterate the hard work of the current councillors of Environment Canterbury. I think that Dame Margaret Bazley has done a wonderful job—an absolutely wonderful job—of being able to shepherd her way through all of the issues that the previous Environment Canterbury councillors could not do, would not do, or perhaps did not have the experience to do.
So I stand in support of this bill. I support the work that the Hon Nick Smith does for the environment, especially in this bill, and I look forward to it coming to our Local Government and Environment Committee. I look forward to hearing what people have to say and to it coming back and passing through the House. Kia ora.
EUGENIE SAGE (Green): Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would be pleased to be speaking on the Environment Canterbury (Restoration of Democracy) Bill but we have got the exact opposite here. The Green Party strongly opposes the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill. Cantabrians should not be treated as second-class citizens and have to live with second-class local body representation, which is what this bill is about, by continuing to have appointed commissioners that the Minister has handpicked and with not returning to a fully elected regional council.
That is what Nick Smith promised in 2010 when the Government axed elected councillors at Environment Canterbury—that we would get democracy back in 2013. That did not happen and it is not happening in this bill. No other regional or unitary council across the whole of New Zealand—in fact no other council—has this half-pie democratic option of having half the members of council elected.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Every district health board.
EUGENIE SAGE: The Minister talks about district health boards. The Minister does not seem to realise that most of Environment Canterbury’s funding comes from rates and that there is a constitutional principle of no taxation without representation, whereas district health boards receive a major chunk of all of their funding from central government through taxes rather than rates. So district health boards are not an appropriate model.
But I would just like to talk a bit about history, because the Minister has misled people again. He claims that Environment Canterbury had no water plans in place in 2010. In fact, there was a proposed natural resources regional plan that was reaching the end of its hearing process and which the commissioners picked up, adopted, and made operative a couple of months after they were appointed. The Minister said there was no—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It’s not true.
EUGENIE SAGE: It is true, Minister. The Minister said there was no collaborative process. Well, that is interesting, because it was elected councillors who developed the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, which provided for a collaborative process and which finalised the strategy before they were rudely got rid of. The Minister claimed there were no prohibitions on water takes in red zones. It was an elected council that recognised that ground water was being overused and that established the red zones and that was moving to actually restrict additional takes from those.
So this whole process is undemocratic. The regulatory impact statement highlights that there is certainly no certainty that we will even get democracy back in 2019 because it contains the statement: “In the long term, if the planning frameworks for freshwater management and earthquake recovery have been effected as planned, this model would provide a mechanism for transition to a fully elected body”. There is a big if in there. The Minister promised democracy back in 2013; that did not happen. We are not getting it back in 2016 when the local body elections occur, and there is no certainty that we will get it back in 2019 either.
There is no justification for Cantabrians being given this half-pie model that the bill sets out. Why is that happening? It is, of course, because 60 percent of the water that is allocated for irrigation in New Zealand is down in Canterbury. So the Government wants to keep Environment Canterbury under its thumb by appointing commissioners. That whole water issue is why the Government got rid of councillors, because it was an elected council that increased the flow regime for the Waimakariri River. The directors of Waimakariri Irrigation and Irrigation New Zealand objected to that—how dare elected councillors move to improve river flows to better protect the health of rivers! So they lobbied the Government along with councils and that resulted in the councillors being removed.
Under this bill, we will have a halving of the level of elected representation we had in 2010. In 2010 we had 14 elected councillors. This bill provides only seven. In 2010 Christchurch citizens elected eight regional councillors. Under this bill they will elect only four.
We are returning to what Peter Dunne has called the days of the squattocracy, where a vote in rural areas is worth more than a vote in the city. Under this bill we will see one councillor in Christchurch representing more than 90,000 citizens, but in South Canterbury a vote is worth more because one councillor there will be representing only 59,770 citizens. So it is gerrymandering, effectively, where you get constituencies established and they have not got the same number of citizens being represented by councillors.
So what do we have under this bill? We will have our second-largest city being able to elect only four regional councillors, and that contrasts with the 20-odd councillors who are elected in Auckland and the 13 over the whole of Greater Wellington. So this Government wants yes-men and yes-women in place at Environment Canterbury so that it can continue to control the direction of that council and it can continue to ensure that we have more irrigation, more intensive agriculture, and, of course, more water pollution.
You only have to look at the performance of these commissioners that the Government has appointed, and we have seen a decline in water quality. At recreational bathing sites on rivers in 2009-10, 74 percent of those sites were suitable for swimming, but in 2013-14 that had decreased to 67 percent. So water quality for recreation has declined under the commissioners. They have not improved water quality. They have certainly made it easier for irrigators by allowing more takes, but they have not improved it for recreation and for swimming.
This whole model—the Minister has said that the commissioners have made good progress. Yet in the regulatory impact statement it says that the implementation of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the final chapters of the Proposed Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan are not expected to be completed until at least 2020. So we have got a double standard here. We have had the commissioners in place for 5 years, and yet they are being allowed another 5 years to finish the planning process and to have a second-generation regional plan when that was at the heart of the Minister’s misplaced criticism of Environment Canterbury in 2010.
I think it is worth reminding the House that Environment Canterbury back then was dealing with more applications for water takes than all of the other regional and unitary councils in New Zealand combined and that there was no national guidance and no national policy statement on fresh water to help provide that assistance to the council. We got that only last year. So it was dealing with a situation by itself with a failure by successive Governments to provide the guidance that the Resource Management Act intended.
So we have the commissioners continuing when, if the Government was really concerned—genuinely concerned—about continuity there would have been other options. The Government could have provided through this bill for elected councillors to return in 2016, to have a fully elected council, and for some of the commissioners to be contracted as advisers for a period after those elections, and to continue without having the right to vote.
That would have been an alternative if the Government trusted the citizens of Canterbury, which it does not. But the Green Party does. It believes that Cantabrians are ready to elect a competent council to pursue policies of sustainable management of water, the coast, soils, air quality, and natural hazards and to make much more progress than the commissioners have made in actually improving water quality, not allowing it to further decline, as has happened under the commissioners.
The Green Party would listen to the more than 500 submitters on the Government’s review document who wanted democracy restored. It would listen to the Christchurch City Council, which has said that it wants effective, open, and transparent processes back rather than this hybrid model that this Government is proposing.
We oppose the bill. We oppose the truncated select committee process, and we want the restoration of democracy in Canterbury. That is what Cantabrians deserve, not this half-pie model.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First): As we know, the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill provides for a mixed governance model for Environment Canterbury for the local government term 2016 to 2019. But we have already had several years since the commissioners were appointed in 2010 and it is difficult to understand why a further transitional period of another 3 years is now needed. We in New Zealand First think that is far too long before a return to a fully elected council. The year 2019 would mean that we would have had 9 years of appointed commissioners—much, much too long a period. Democracy requires a return to a fully elected Environment Canterbury next year, and not in 2019.
I want to say this at the beginning. I supported the appointment of the commissioners to replace the Environment Canterbury councillors in 2010 because I think it was true that Environment Canterbury was then dysfunctional. It was making irrational, politically motivated decisions about water management that were, in fact, threatening the orderly processes that were then in train for consents for takes and uses of water for irrigation. Those processes were then well developed—for example, for the Central Plains Water scheme. Actions then by Environment Canterbury simply undermined those processes. There were then, and still are, four problems with Environment Canterbury. First, in 2010 there was a lack of a properly developed strategic plan for fresh water. In fact, contrary to what Eugenie Sage said, that process was shambolic and was not really going anywhere. Nobody really had any confidence that it would. That, in fact, is the truth of that matter, whether or not we like it. Furthermore, that process was actually used to undermine the consent process for the Central Plains Water scheme even while it was in train. For me, I think that the way Environment Canterbury behaved at that time was most improper.
Secondly, Environment Canterbury acted far, far too late—at least 10 years too late—in getting that plan off the ground. Organisations such as Central Plains Water, which wanted to get started, had to do it in a vacuum, without any such strategic plan, and that was the fault of Environment Canterbury up until 2010. It is no surprise that that was the case, because the third reason, the third problem with Environment Canterbury then, was that management acted like a law unto itself. It would not listen to people, and neither would the councillors of Environment Canterbury listen to people at that time. I was one of the people who were seeking to be heard, and found it very difficult to even get a hearing with management or councillors that was meaningful and constructive. We had plenty of good things to offer, but they did not want to know. So management was a major problem. And, fourthly, the fourth problem is that there is an inherent problem of an urban versus rural schism in Canterbury, because of the urban dominance. This is something that Eugenie Sage does not seem to appreciate. It is not appropriate for the city of Christchurch to dominate the whole region in the way she suggests would be appropriate.
So, therefore, the appointment of commissioners in 2010 was, in fact, necessary. They have done an excellent job. They did listen. They did have an excellent process for the development of the strategic plan, and they took people with them, which is something that Environment Canterbury, as an elected body, had not done. They did achieve that plan, and it is now effectively in operation. It has brought order and direction, and does properly balance the need for the economic development potential of irrigation with sustainable farming practices. That will lead, over time, to a better environment. I disagree again with Eugenie Sage, who uses statistics that do not recognise the fact that farming in Canterbury has been going on for more than 100 years. There is a lot of nasty stuff still in the post that has got nothing to do with modern and more effective farming practices in terms of the protection of the environment that are now in place.
The truth is that the objective of the 2010 appointments, however, has been achieved. The commissioners have done a good job, but they are no longer needed. What they were put there to do has been done. A return to democracy next year is essential. It is wrong to treat Canterbury as different from other regions, and Canterbury is entitled to fully democratic local governance. The proposal to have seven elected and six appointed people on the board of Environment Canterbury is bizarre. It is likely to create tensions, just in the same way as the old urban and rural schism created tensions. A them-and-us attitude will develop. It will not be positive for Environment Canterbury. I note, for example, that in clause 11 of the bill there are a number of criteria for appointed members of the board. When you look at those—management of freshwater skills, local authority governance skills, tikanga Māori skills, and knowledge of the Canterbury region and its people—they are the same things that elected people are perfectly capable of judging. We do not need appointed commissioners for those reasons or because of the need for those skills. The mixed-governance model is likely to result in the Government being accused of political interference, and that will not be positive for Environment Canterbury either. However, I would have to say this. The provisions to carry forward the limitations upon appeal rights are still needed and are acceptable to New Zealand First. They are needed to ensure that the implementation of decisions made already and the furtherance of the strategic management plan are not compromised, otherwise everything that has been achieved so far could be lost.
What is really needed is not the appointment of commissioners for another 3 years but a genuine review of the structure of regional governance in Canterbury. New Zealand First’s policy is this: it does not support having appointed members for Environment Canterbury and will therefore not support this bill. New Zealand First is committed to effective regional democracy, with which appointed members are not compatible. Secondly, New Zealand First does not support the resurrection of Environment Canterbury as it was prior to the installation of the current commissioners. So just having appointed commissioners for another 3 years and then going back to the old system is not acceptable either. That is simply because of that urban and rural schism that exists inherently in Canterbury, with a large city that tends to dominate everything else. We would not support Environment Canterbury as it is currently, as it would be reconstructed after 2019. Instead, New Zealand First would support a unitary authority for Christchurch City and would give the rural authorities in Hurunui, Waimakariri, Selwyn, Ashburton, and Waitaki the option either to have unitary authority themselves or they could club together and have a rural regional authority. That is something for them to decide.
So New Zealand First acknowledges the historical and inherent problems with Environment Canterbury, based on the urban and rural schism of interests, but does not accept more appointed commissioners. It seeks a longer term review of regional governance aimed at unitary councils in Canterbury. We see that, in the long term, as being the only solution. This bill will do nothing at all to solve any of those problems. New Zealand First will therefore be obliged to vote against it.
[Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker, and to you, throughout the House, I acknowledge you all.]
Kia ora e te Mana Whakawā, huri noa i te Whare, nei te mihi atu ki a koutou katoa. It is my pleasure to stand and speak on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill’s first reading. Before I was elected to this House I was, and still am, a proud Ngāi Tahu Cantabrian and a former businessman, and I was also a member of Ngāi Tahu’s governance board, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, as Ngāi Tūahuriri’s representative. Ngāi Tūahuriri actually are mana whenua over most of Christchurch. In those roles it was absolutely clear to me that Environment Canterbury was failing, and a change was needed. Environment Canterbury was failing to provide the leadership our region needed on irrigation issues. It was failing miserably in its duty to maintain water quality, and particularly in its Treaty and statutory obligations to mana whenua.
Environment Canterbury was dysfunctional and either could not or would not take up the hard decisions it needed to. Where our region needed decisions, all we got were delays. When it came to consenting time frames, this council was breaking the law over 70 percent of the time—that is right, over 70 percent of the time. So we were all very pleased when the Government launched an investigation into Environment Canterbury’s performance. We were delighted that the Government took the resulting report seriously, recognised the urgent need for intervention, and took the hard decisions to replace the regional council with commissioners. The response to this was overwhelmingly positive, in particular amongst Environment Canterbury staff.
Ngāi Tahu were rightfully cautious about the removal of elected representatives, but they recognised the need for intervention as a necessary, practical solution. We should be cautious when intervening in a democratically elected body, but the legislation we pass here puts certain responsibilities and obligations on councils. So when a dysfunctional regional council cannot or will not fulfil its responsibilities it is incumbent on the Government, with the support of this House, to act, and that is exactly what happened. In 2010 the National-led Government acted, and the results make it clear it got it right. Under the commissioners, Environment Canterbury and Ngāi Tahu have built a much stronger relationship thanks to Environment Canterbury placing a higher priority on engagement with mana whenua. Just to quote from the iwi, the Ngāi Tahu - Environment Canterbury success under the commissioners “sets the scene as a successful model of partnership”. Ngāi Tahu now has a relationship with its regional council that many iwi in this country would envy.
Environment Canterbury has now become an exemplar as regional councils go, but we still need a transition back to a fully elected body, which is what this bill will do. It is about transition. It is equally important that we maintain the good progress that has been made and continue with the current stable governance that Environment Canterbury has throughout the transition.
Finally, I have heard from the other side of the House, from the Opposition, a lot of rhetoric and a lot of examples about democracy and all of this sort of thing. But if we go to the election of 2014—I think the most important thing there, which is a reflection that we are doing this correctly and we are doing right, is that in the 2014 general election National won the party vote in all Christchurch electorates. That is in Selwyn, Port Hills, Ilam, Christchurch Central, Christchurch East, and Waimakariri. That there, to me, is a reflection of the fact that the people of Canterbury and the people of Christchurch actually support this and they, indeed, support this transition.
I have no hesitation in commending this bill to the House, and I look forward to it coming to the environment and—
Jan Logie: Local government.
NUK KORAKO: —the Local Government and Environment Committee. Kia ora.
JAN LOGIE (Green): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. It felt wrong helping out my National colleague Nuk Korako after that contribution, but I just could not help myself. I am really pleased to have the opportunity to rise and take a short call in support of the more comprehensive contribution that was made by my colleague Eugenie Sage where she, I think, eviscerated the Government’s arguments for this bill and exposed its true purpose in outlining the history of this bill.
We have heard several times from National members, and also from New Zealand First members, who were saying that the councillors were removed from Environment Canterbury because they were not doing the job that the people put them there to do. Well, I would say, still, it is the right of the people to decide whether they were doing the job they put them there to do, or not. It is not, and should never be, the job of people sitting in Wellington on these Government benches to decide whether a local council or a regional council is doing the job for its people. It is the heart of democracy that the people themselves get to vote and express their will.
If the people of Canterbury had been unhappy with the functioning of Environment Canterbury, they would have removed those councillors and replaced them with people whom they believed would deliver on what they wanted. That is how democracy works, and it seems to be a fundamental failure on behalf of this Government to misunderstand that very basic principle.
The Green Party has a proud history of supporting democracy and, particularly, participatory democracy at a local level. We believe that the more perspectives that are gathered, the better the decision. We believe that the more people who are directly affected by a decision and who are involved, the more likely you are to get a better decision.
Appropriate decision-making is one of our charter principles, and it is so important for us because we know it is really hard to protect the environment and create a fair society without good democracy. The arguments that have been put forward for getting rid of Environment Canterbury council members were that the decisions were taking too long and it was getting in the way of economic progress, i.e., irrigation.
Well, actually, that is the case in point. When Nick Smith from Wellington and from these Government benches decided that the economic priorities of his Government overrode the considerations and the complexities that were happening in that local community, he undermined democracy and put the environment at risk. We are seeing so clearly now that while this commission is in place and people are appointed by this Government to prioritise economic growth and irrigation, we have seen a decline in water quality.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish!
JAN LOGIE: We have. That is the reporting, as we have heard from my colleague Eugenie Sage, who outlined the struggles that Environment Canterbury was working within and the constraints around having no national plans and that it was dealing with more irrigation proposals than all the other councils combined, with no support from central government. It was got rid of and commissioners were put in place, and, as a result, we have declining water quality. I suspect there have been more irrigation permits given. The Government’s agenda is being met, but the needs of the environment and the community are not being met.
I would also like to just touch on one of the aspects of this. The Government, through the Minister Nick Smith, has said that he can justify this by saying: “Well, DHBs are mixed models. This is just like a DHB.” Well, this is not, because the point of comparison is not district health boards. This is a regional council, and the point of comparison is other regional councils. What you are doing with this bill is singling out Canterbury. You are turning Cantabrians into second-class citizens, and that is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable.
POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East): It has been an interesting first reading debate thus far. There are a couple of points that I want to touch on. In 2010 the Government removed a democratically elected regional council organisation—it removed it. When we talk about democracy, we talk about one person, one vote, and the ability for that person’s voice to be heard in the democratic process. I am concerned that the Government felt its duty was to override the interests of the democratic process in what would appear to be a favouring of the interests of those people who really had an interest in the rural environment over the urban environment. One of our previous speakers talked about the schism between the rural/urban environments, and I feel that the removal of the Environment Canterbury councillors actually shifted the balance in the other direction unfairly and was not a democratic process. If there had been such an issue, then the will of the people should have been sought and another opportunity to vote should have been given.
When you look up the model that the Government is proposing—the mixed model of governance—when you google it, all you get is Environment Canterbury. It is not a model that is widely used. In fact, it is used nowhere else in the regional council environment. It is not a model that is widely used. We are going to go from a Government-imposed model to one that is not tried and true. Here again, Cantabrians are guinea pigs.
When you look at the regulatory impact statement and look at what the commissioners were actually required to do, the whole idea was that we were going to “streamline the planning process. Part 3 of the ECan Act empowered ECan to: make changes to a plan or regional policy statement, or to make a variation to a proposed plan or regional policy statement, through a limited appeals process;”. Yet again, it stripped out the ability to go back to Environment Canterbury and say—as an individual, as a farmer, or as an organisation—we actually want the right of appeal. We have had that process limited.
Let us have a look at the “Problem Definition” in the regulatory impact statement—the reason that we have got this bill before the House. The expiry of the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act at the local body elections is October 2016, assuming the commissioners themselves do not stand. The reason that we are doing this and extending this for a further 3 years is that “their collective skills, expertise and institutional knowledge will be lost at a single point in time at ECan’s leadership level.” It is as if the commissioners have been operating in a vacuum, and that the people of Canterbury do not know how to run their own affairs—that we need for them to hold our hands for a further 3 years.
Further on in the regulatory impact statement is another problem definition: “In addition, the new leadership would not have available to them the resource management powers and processes under Part 3 of the ECan Act.”, which I described before. So that is to make changes to a plan or a regional policy statement, and, again, there is a limited appeals process—[Bell rung] Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker. That was so soon, Mr Assistant Speaker. There is so much more to talk about on this bill, which is undemocratic to the people of Canterbury.
So after 6 years of a Government-controlled Environment Canterbury, we are still not going to have the ability to control our own affairs. I do not buy the argument that we are unable, after 6 years, to take back the reins of our regional council. I do not buy the argument that changes in leadership will create a vacuum and that we cannot control these affairs ourselves. I do not buy the argument that it will require nearly 10 years of Government interference in order to provide stability to the environment. I do not buy these arguments. I look forward to my future contributions on this bill.
MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri): It is an honour to rise and speak to the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill in its first reading. It is a bill that I support and I am looking forward to it being passed in its first reading, and for it to go to the select committee and to receive submissions in the legislative process.
I do want to raise today just four points, and I think they are very key points when considering the context of this bill. One is that what people like about this Government is that this Government makes a decision and then acts. We saw that with the earthquakes in Christchurch. There was talk about a lot of social problems coming out of the earthquakes. People were going to leave Christchurch. House prices were going to crash. Jobs were going to be lost. But the Government came in and provided a lot of certainty, security, and stability. Like with Environment Canterbury, which was very dysfunctional, the Government came in, made a decision, and acted—contrast that with the Opposition, which makes one decision and does the next, whether that be on the flag referendum or the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement—and that is what the public want. That is what the people of Christchurch want. That is what the people of Canterbury want. Like my colleague Nuk Korako said, it was the National Party that won the party vote, not only in Christchurch or in Canterbury but in the whole of the South Island.
I want to acknowledge the work of the Ministers—the Hon Dr Nick Smith and the Hon Louise Upston—who went out with the document for public consultation. They took it around the councils, and six out of 10 of them were in support. My electorate, Waimakariri, is in support. They consulted with Ngāi Tahu, who are in support. They got public submissions, which have led to the development of this bill.
They say there are two positions in politics. One is “It’s time for a change.” and the other is “Don’t put this at risk.” Well, this legislation, this bill, actually combines both. It gives us a change—we move towards a mixed model of governance—but it does not put the gains at risk. As a new MP, I am out in my electorate of Waimakariri dealing with the very real environmental issues in Waimakariri. One of them is around water management. The other is around working collaboratively in zoned committees. Environment Canterbury has shown leadership in those over the last few years, and it is right that we support it and the people of Canterbury in protecting our environment. So I support this bill and commend it to the House. Thank you.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills): What an arrogant speech from a Canterbury member of Parliament. What do people value in a democracy—what do people value in a democracy? I think that they value their vote. This might come as gobsmackingly big news to the member who has just resumed his seat, Matt Doocey, but people overseas long for the right to vote. We in New Zealand sort of take it for granted, but we do not have it in Canterbury. [Interruption] And that Minister interjecting and giggling said that we could not possibly give Cantabrians a full right to vote for their regional council. Why? He said it. The Hon Dr Nick Smith said it in the Press, on Newstalk ZB, and on Radio New Zealand. He said it was too risky. Oh, too risky! It is too risky to give us our right to vote in the same way as every other person in New Zealand. Well, I think that that is wrong; I think it is immoral, and it is certainly not justified on any basis that that member pretends it is being justified on.
The Creech report made it very clear that there was no breach of responsibility, no breach of functionality, no cause for concern in terms of the job that was being done by Environment Canterbury with elected members. It was all about irrigation. It was all about water. It was all about that Government wanting to get more water out of our rivers and on to the Canterbury Plains. That is what the debate was about. It was not about competency. It was not about being functional. It was about water allocation. I think the member should be honest. I know that it is a big call to ask that of him, but I think the people of Canterbury deserve it.
We had the promise in 2010. We will have elected commissioners, totally against the context of the Creech report. Wyatt Creech was a former National Minister who was honest enough to say that what the Government wants to do is not justified.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: They were dysfunctional.
Hon RUTH DYSON: He never said that they were dysfunctional, and I challenge that Minister to table that comment. I know that he will not be able to. He should be very careful about what he accuses Wyatt of having said, because I tell you what, Wyatt Creech, despite being a former National Minister, is a man of integrity. He would highly resent what that Minister has just accused him of saying.
I think it was the Hon Nick Smith who, in 2010, first sacked our democratically elected council, albeit for a very short time. He said: “It will be for a very short time. We will just get it all back on track. We will just get the irrigation flowing.” He said that there was no water plan. The water plan in Canterbury was proposed in 2004—11 years ago, and 6 years before that Minister sacked the democratically elected councillors. It was in 2004—an operational water plan—and that Minister knows it, because he is on top of his job, usually. But in this regard, he has clearly been rolled. He is doing what he is told by other Cabinet Ministers, and, actually, he is not making a very good job of it.
Twice since then, we have had that promise that Minister Smith made to Canterbury people broken: “Oh, we’ll just have a little bit longer and then we promise we’ll give them back. We promise we’ll give you your vote back—ah, more legislation.” And now we get: “Oh, sorry, we can’t have democracy back in Canterbury because it is too risky.” In March of this year, we had a little glimmer of hope that we might get back our right to vote in Canterbury. This document, the Environment Canterbury Review: A discussion document, is full of great ideas—all these functions and powers, what the review was all about, the freshwater management; all very good. It says at the back that you have got a bit of time to put in your submission—better than this bill, which is, again, truncated; but do not worry, everyone knows what they are going to say.
The review says: “Submissions will be summarised by the Review Team and available online … A report on the outcomes … [will be] published… The Government will then make a decision.” Oh, they forgot to say that the Government will then make a decision having totally ignored the overwhelming majority of submissions. There were 534 submissions—534 submissions in total. How many of the 534 were supportive of the option that has ended up in this legislation? How many, Minister Smith? Sixteen—one-six. Which is bigger: the 518 who opposed it or the 16 who supported it? Shall I give you a clue? It is not the number of people who backed this legislation that we are looking at. There were 534 submissions, but only 16 supported the model that is in this legislation. The Government was totally arrogant, totally dismissive, and just rode roughshod over democracy—who cares? It says it is too risky and ignores the submissions that this document asks for. That is arrogance beyond belief, although I have to say that we are getting used to it.
So what was the real agenda? Well, it is always hard to tell with the current Government because it is never straight with people. It does not tell people the full truth; it tells them what it wants them to believe and then keeps repeating it. Well, in this case, it has not been successful. Sometimes it is; I have noticed that. Some Ministers think that if they repeat things that are not true often enough, people will believe them, but in this case, that is not the case. People in Canterbury know why Environment Canterbury was sacked. It was sacked for one reason only: to get more water out of our rivers to irrigate the plains.
We know the environmental damage that is being done as a result of excessive irrigation. We know that there is an urban/rural tension. Does this bill go any way towards resolving it? No, it does not. It does not restore democracy. It gerrymanders the population so that the strength is in the rural communities. Bjelke-Petersen would be very proud of that. It has not happened since his days in Queensland. Never before have we had gerrymandering of electoral boundaries in this way—never before. We have always had an open, democratic, fair process—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish!
Hon RUTH DYSON: Well, the Minister might know where he has gerrymandered electorate boundaries before in the past, but I am certainly not aware of any. We have an independent commission with political representation, we have public submissions, we have transparency, we have criteria to be met—none of it is met in this legislation. It is gerrymandered, and then on top of that, the Minister says to Canterbury: “Don’t worry about having a proper process for submissions—don’t worry your little heads about that. We’ll just give you a short period of time—shorter than any for other legislation.” I hope the select committee gets to go to Canterbury. It certainly did last time and the time before.
Again, it is a truncated process—unless the Minister is going to be absolutely disingenuous and say the Christmas holiday break does not mean anything. Is the Minister going to say that? Well, in that case you should take at least 3 weeks off the time that is allowed, because there is not—[Interruption] That member should be very careful about pots calling kettles black. He might have some truth discovered in the House if he continues along that line. So one of the examples that we can use to demonstrate how the Government is thinking is a quote from the Speaker, actually, when he was a Minister. He said in December 2008 that the one thing that the irrigation community needed to know was that they had to take the urban community with them if they were to get what they wanted. He was, basically, giving them his advice. But by April 2010 all bets were off. Let us work together, let us collaborate—that was all thrown out and instead we got: “We can do anything”.
Arrogance had taken over the Ministers. They decided that they were running the show and they were going to do what they wanted. The then Minister David Carter said to the regional councils at the irrigation conference: “We had to act [on Environment Canterbury] because the situation was untenable if we are going to seriously make progress in delivering this irrigation. I would have thought that what happened recently [to Environment Canterbury] would be a signal to all regional councillors to work a bit more constructively with their farmer stakeholders.” Those are on the record—public comments by the Minister, who was the only one to tell the truth, but now he is not even in Cabinet, so that is a bit of a tragedy.
The Creech review of Environment Canterbury did not say the organisation was dysfunctional. It did not say that it needed to be replaced with unelected representation. This legislation carries on the removal of a fundamental right of all New Zealanders: the right to vote. It is unnecessary, it is wrong, it was opposed by Cantabrians, and it is about time the Government got off its arrogant high horse and started listening.
JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth): On this matter of the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill, I am very happy to support this bill and commend it to the House. Thank you.
|Ayes 62||New Zealand National 59; Māori Party 2; ACT New Zealand 1.|
|Noes 59||New Zealand Labour 32; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 12; United Future 1.|
|Bill read a first time.|
- Bill referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee.
|Ayes 58||New Zealand Labour 32; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 12.|
|Noes 63||New Zealand National 59; Māori Party 2; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.|
|Amendment not agreed to.|
- Motion agreed to.