Issues of water management caused the New Zealand Parliament to replace a 14-member elected environmental council with an appointed commission.
New Zealand’s government announced it will replace the Environment Canterbury’s, ECan, 14-member elected council with a group of up to seven government appointed commissioners, according to the Otago Daily Times.
The government had to replace the council because Canterbury’s water management was in shambles, lacking resource management, Environment Minister Nick Smith said. Former public service chief executive Margaret Bazley has been appointed to head the new commission, and up to six more commissioners may be appointed by New Zealand’s government.
Since 2006, ECan has sought more power for the council so it could impose moratoriums on areas with over-stressed water sources and delay consents for water permits.
Some of these powers will be granted to the newly appointed commissioners.
Outgoing ECan chairman Alec Neill responded to the decision saying that had the council already been appointed commissioners’ powers, he was certain issues involving water could have been more easily dealt with, according to the Otago Daily Times.
Meanwhile, the legislation was passed with some resistance. Christchurch Central’s Member of Parliament, Brendon Burns, led the Labour Party’s movement against the legislation in the debate, saying it was an assault on democracy.
“This is about the replacement of a democratic council function by executive fiat,” Burns said during the third reading debate on the bill, reports TVNZ. “We haven’t even had a flicker of democratic process here with this bill rammed through under urgency.”
“All the power rests with the Minister for the Environment and he says ‘trust me, I will look after Canterbury’s interests’–Well, I don’t trust him.”
New Zealand’s Green Party also opposes replacing the council,The New Zealand Herald reports.
During debate over the bill, the Green Party pointed out that New Zealand’s Agriculture Minister, David Carter, has a farm in the area under ECan management. The Greens co-leader, Russen Norman, said the bill could ease the process and construction of a proposed dam on the Hurunui River, and financially benefit Carter as a result.
Carter said that Norman’s concern was outrageous and irrelevant since he had consent to irrigate his property from the Hurunui River, which would not be altered if the proposed dam went through.