Archives for posts with tag: ECan

Over-rated

Gerry Brownlee said it was disappointing a “democratic process can potentially be subverted by this sort of activity”.

That’s Brownlee talking about the Greens fiddling with submissions to ECan. It is deeply ironic that the Minister, or anyone in the National party, can try and take the moral high ground on democratic issues relating to ECan, the regional council which they sacked in 2010, promising new elections in 2013. Then in 2012, using the excuse of the earthquakes, they extended the commissioners remit through till 2016. If they are re-elected, there is no guarantee that they will return the mandate to the people who pay their rates to ECan. The only party “subverting” democratic processes at ECan are National.

When he was campaigning in Christchurch last week, John Key said that “elections are over-rated”. That was an incredibly insulting thing for him to say – let alone for him to say it in Christchurch, a city where many in the population feel totally disempowered by the dictatorship at ECan, the sidelining of the City Council, and the frustrating struggle with EQC, a part of the government that was theoretically set up to help all New Zealanders. From my conversations in Ilam and elsewhere, there are many people who will be voting to remove Key and Brownlee – then they won’t have to be bothered with the nuisance of elections any more.

 

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In the Greatest Australian Movie of All Time (which I also referenced yesterday), the Kerrigan’s take their case to the highest court in the land. Inspired by those battling, fictional Aussies in The Castle, Labour has done the same. We think that what the National Government has done by removing our right to vote in regional council elections is wrong, but as it has been introduced via legislation, there is no court we can take it to in this country. So we’re taking it to the UN instead.

Two important UN treaties, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, confirm that it is a human right that citizens have a say on the running of their country and take part in the conduct of public affairs.

I’ve been working with Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson and Justice spokesperson Andrew Little to write a letter to the relevant committee at the United Nations. Here is the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, of which New Zealand is a signatory. In the past, we have taken pride in our democracy, and our fight to preserve democracy around the world. But when our government has removed the rights of it’s own citizens, then we don’t have a leg to stand on when we try lecture other nations, like Fiji, about the need for democracy.

When your own government trashes the democratic rights of its people, there aren’t many places to go to seek redress, but the Human Rights committee of the UN is a place we can go to get the issue investigated, hence the letter written by my colleague and Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little.

Democracy is sometimes inconvenient, especially to those in power, but that’s the point. It is the basis of ensuring the interests of the powerful don’t ride roughshod over the powerless.

Today marks four years of the unelected commissioners running ECan. It is a black mark on the National Government, and New Zealand. We will be marking the occasion at the Cairn in Cathedral Square at 12:30 today, with Ruth Dyson and Russel Norman speaking about the importance of letting people manage their own resources and having the right to vote (more details here).

Labour will return the right of Canterbury people to elect their regional councillors immediately, but in the meantime it will help to have an independent external body judge whether our international rights have been breached.

One of Amy Adams’s major projects is the reform of the RMA. Rob Hosking has an interesting profile on her and her reforms. It’s worth considering the Federated Farmers response to these proposed changes. Here is a press release from about a year ago, when the change proposals were announced:

The proposed reform is closely aligned to Federated Farmers 2008 reform package.

Federated Farmers has for a long time tried to get the balance right between what the public wants to protect and what that means to someone who wants to use their land. The RMA in our view currently leans too far towards protection. Our members will welcome the proposed inclusion of “the benefits of the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources,” in a revised section 6.

A newly drafted section 7, focussing on the efficiency of council process, could require councils to consider “an appropriate balance between public and private interests in the use of land”. Every council should ask itself that same question every time a decision is made.

The changes that Adams is proposing are “closely aligned” to the reforms that Federated Farmers asked for in 2008. According to the Feds, the current RMA “leans too far towards protection” and they welcome wording which euphemistically refers to efficient use of resources, and the dropping of the phrase “the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values”. These proposed changes have been criticised as shifting the balance too far towards the economy, at the expense of the environment. One of the most prominent critics was no less than the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright. Here is a joint release from 50 councils who submitted on the changes (ECan is notably absent from the group). The submission notes “strong concerns raised by the majority of submitters that proposed changes will harm the environment”. Forest and Bird weren’t exactly keen on it either:

The proposed weakening of the environmental safeguards in the Act’s purposes and principles are disappointing, unfounded and unrelated to the government’s objectives for simpler and consistent planning that leads to greater housing affordability.

Nor were Fish and Game, who commissioned Sir Geoffrey Palmer – the original architect of the RMA – to write a report on the changes.

In his report for the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Sir Geoffrey’s expert analysis clearly shows that the Government’s proposed changes ‘will significantly and seriously weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders’

There is widespread opposition from a broad-range of groups about the impact that these changes will have on our environment. The common theme seems to be that these changes are designed to make it easier and faster to extract resources (read: water). So is the Minister of the Environment acting in the best interests of Federated Farmers, or herself? Or are they one and the same?

I was going to write a few more questions about the Amy Adams post from yesterday, but Rob Salmond at Polity has already covered most of what I was going to say – and included a handy flow chart! I recommend you pop over and check it out.

Yesterday, we discovered that Amy Adams owns part of Canterbury Plains Water, a firm that is running irrigation schemes in Canterbury. This is important because it reveals two potential paths through which Adams could use her public office to enrich herself, and her husband, and other family members. Those two paths are:

Through participating in government decisions that are explicitly about CPW; or
Through participating in government decisions about the management of freshwater resources in Canterbury. These affect the profitability of CPW and the value of its shares, which gives rise to a conflict of interest under the Cabinet Manual (2.61).

In addition to what Rob has brought up, there are a couple more questions I’d like answered. Was she at cabinet when the decision was made to create the Crown Irrigation scheme? Did she participate in discussions at a cabinet level about this policy which sees money from state asset sales given as a subsidy to irrigation schemes?

Adams is also leading the charge to gut streamline the Resource Management Act. What effects will these changes have on dairy farms? Will they make it easier or harder to get resource consent for taking water from rivers? What about consent to discharge effluent into waterways?

I think there are still a few outstanding questions here that should be easy enough for Minister Adams to answer if she is so adamant that this is nothing more than a smear campaign.

An investigation late last year by the Herald and Keith Ng showed that a number of MPs, mainly National MPs, happened to own a lot of farms. This isn’t anything new – National has always been the party that represents farmers. The head of Federated Farmers just happens to be the finance minister’s brother. However, the Minister of the Environment Amy Adams’ significant land holdings in mid-Canterbury may by affected by some of the decisions that her government has made on the environment.

Adams owns a number of properties, but the ones of most interest are in two blocks. The first is in 9 titles, at Charing Cross. It totals 1,992,440m2, and has a rateable value of $4,700,000. The second is at Darfield, is in one title of 502,154m2, and has a rateable value of $1,050,000. What is interesting about these two blocks is that they are both within the area to be covered by the Central Plains Water (CPW) scheme. This is a controversial project that will take water from the Rakaia River and use it to irrigate an area of the Canterbury Plains between the Rakaia and Hororata Rivers.

Water has been a controversial issue in Canterbury for most of the last decade, due to the rapid expansion of dairying, and the pressure this has placed on limited water resources. This of course boiled over when the newly-elected National government sacked the democratically elected ECan (Canterbury Regional Council) in 2010. The reasons given for this were that it was “dysfunctional”, but documents obtained under the Official Information Act by the Press show that this wasn’t about so-called dysfunction, but vested interests lobbying for greater access to water.

Further to this, when the bill went to parliament to replace the ECan council with commissioners, it also made it much easier for the Minister to amend a Water Conservation Order (WCO) in Canterbury. A WCO is often compared to a “national park” for a water way – it recognises the environmental, cultural and recreational significance of the body of water, and makes it more difficult for it to be exploited. WCOs are the domain of the Ministry of the Environment – not the regional council; by tacking this clause onto the bill which was nominally designed to resolve the “dysfunction” at ECan, the government showed what they were really trying to do. A WCO was placed on the Rakaia River in 1988 – the river which CPW needed to draw from to ensure the viability of their scheme. This was lifted in 2013.

Work on the CPW scheme is only just about to begin. One of the problems getting the scheme off the ground has been a lack of funding – this is a very expensive project. Luckily, the government decided to take $400 million from the “Future Investment Fund” (aka asset sales) and put it into an Irrigation Acceleration Fund, administered by the Ministry of Primary Industries. Crown Irrigation was launched by the former Minister, David Carter. The MPI says that Crown Irrigation was set up to fund “community irrigation”. Central Plains describes itself as “community irrigation” – despite it having a $375 million price tag. It’s also worth noting the similarities between the CPW and CII websites.

crown irrigation central plains

In September 2012, David Carter (Minister of Local Government) and Amy Adams (Minister of the Environment) fronted the press to explain that they were extending the reign of the ECan commissioners until 2016 (the 2010 bill said that there would be elections in 2013). They argued that it was needed because of the earthquakes, but Adams went on to talk about freshwater management:

”It is critical for New Zealand that the planning governance structure for Environment Canterbury is stable, effective and efficient. To keep the freshwater management work on track, we intend to retain the limited appeal rights on decisions made by Environment Canterbury on plans and policy statements relating to freshwater management.”

The 2010 share register of Central Plains Water Limited shows that a company called AMDON Farms Limited owned 801 shares in CPW, doubling to 1602 shares in 2011. Amy Adams is a director and co-owner of AMDON, along with her husband Robert “Don” Donald Adams. The CPWL register also shows that there are 7 other people with the surname Adams who have shares in the scheme and live in and around Greendale, some of whom are related to Amy and Don.

The Central Plains Water scheme would not have been viable if the National government had not passed the ECan bill in 2010. The value of land with access to water for irrigation is greater than land which does not. Adams owns a large amount of land which is within the CPW water scheme, and also owns shares in the scheme itself. It is difficult not to conclude that the actions of this government, including Adams and Carter, have benefitted their farming portfolios.

The government is considering banning farming from near major rivers. Great news! Except it’s not the government of clean, green, 100% Pure New Zealand – it’s China:

Mr Chen said the Chinese government is considering banning or restricting farming along China’s major rivers – as the effects of pollution are too severe. He said farming was a major cause of pollution and the pollution downstream effect was particularly exaggerated.

This government’s attitude to the environment seems to be completely ass-backwards; massive expansion of dairying, sold on the back of our “pure” reputation to a country that is more worried about water pollution than we are.

Another day, another polluted water source in Canterbury. This time, it’s in Woodend, which is pretty much Greater Christchurch now (it’s where the large “Pegasus” subdivision is.) This is after there was a contamination issue in Rolleston in May. I do like the opening line:

Authorities in Waimakariri are still trying to trace how E.coli got into the Woodend water supply.

Gee whizz, I wonder? Meanwhile, in the Perspective section of the Press, two of the ECan commissars commissioners argue that the water situation in Canterbury is “going to get worse before it gets better”:

People are rightly asking: what is being done? And when can we expect to see improvements in the state of water at favourite swimming or fishing spots, a reduction in algal blooms in lakes and rivers, and a turnaround in the level of nitrates in shallow groundwater? The answer to the first question is that a huge amount of work is already going on to improve freshwater – particularly over the past four years since the collaborative Canterbury Water Management Strategy was agreed. Getting water management right remains the single highest priority for Environment Canterbury. The answer to the second question is that unfortunately things are likely to get worse before they get better. This is simply because so much of Canterbury’s water is located underground.

Your job is to manage water. You know you are doing it badly, and yet you get to keep your job? How is this any better than the elected ECan? Oh, that’s right. The ECan coup wasn’t about improving water quality in Canterbury; it was about ensuring that certain interests got the water that they wanted, which wasn’t going to happen with an elected council. The water quality in Canterbury is declining rapidly, the nitrate levels are increasing alarmingly – and the widespread irrigation that the ECan coup was designed to encourage hasn’t even started yet.

The perspective page of the Press is the natural home of a number of bizarre opinions. They are often deliberately provocative, totally unworkable, or horribly ideological. Sometimes they make sense. But this morning’s opinion was extraordinary, even given the expectations I have of this section. In it, 1%-er, CEO and Knight of the Realm argued that the peasantry should have the choice to vote for not having the vote anymore:

Starting with local body elections we could make a change that would enable voters to demand better performance from our politicians. I suggest that on every local body ballot paper an additional candidate is created which says “Appoint commissioners”. The local citizens would be democratically choosing, if in sufficient numbers, an action for the government to take.

The examples that this rich, old, white man cites are the technocrats installed in various European states after the Global Financial Crisis, and the commissioners installed at ECan. In the case of the latter, the “need” for commissioners was dubious at best; a crisis was created so that a right-wing government could impose upon ECan people to do a job that elected officials would never have agreed to do. In the former, a financial crisis – which was created by rich, white, old men that Simpson represents – was used as a reason for those same rich, white, old men to impose government by rich, white, old men.

Yes, voter turnout is depressingly low. But that shouldn’t mean that we should have our right to vote taken from us – even if those same rich, white, old men would try and convince us that we should vote away our right to vote. This is another worrying attempt from the people who hold positions of power in the country to further weaken local government and centralize control; if the quakes have taught us anything, it’s that power should be shifting back from the elite to communities, not the other way around.

As we fill in our ballots for the local body elections in Christchurch, it’s worth remembering that this is the second election in which we have been denied the right to vote for our ECan representation. In 2010, the National Government scrapped the elected ECan councillors, based on report that they had commissioned by former National Party MP and owner of a dairy company, Wyatt Creech. While the target of the Creech report was ECan, the government also used the bill that was passed at the time to weaken parts of the resource management act, including the Water Protection Orders, which have been described as the “national parks” of our waterways. It was clear that the intention was to stop an increasingly urban ECan council from preventing the rapid expansion of dairying in Canterbury. Putting in commissioners has clearly helped with that. In the last 5 years, an additional 445,000 dairy cows have been introduced to the Canterbury Plains; that’s 244 new cows each day for the last 5 years. Removing an organisation called “Environment Canterbury” is clearly key to letting that happen.

The original ECan act scrapped the council and stopped elections in 2010, but allowed for elections in 2013. In 2012, the National Government extended the Bazley Doctrine until 2016, by cancelling the 2013 elections (which we should be voting on now.) The reason given was “earthquakes”. This decision was forced upon an already shell-shocked population, who were too tired to fight, despite the Human Rights Commission calling the decision an abuse of human rights.

Eugenie Sage from the Green Party says that Canterbury has had the most faecal contamination in the water of any region in New Zealand – and this is before the Government’s subsidisation of irrigation has even begun.

“Canterbury is the worst region in New Zealand in terms of the number of people taking water from water supply schemes with excessive E coli breaches”

Here are some figures on the numbers of cows already on the plains. I shudder to think how shafted our water will be once the RMA has been gutted and the government-sponsored irrigation has been rolled out.