Thick, biodiverse New Zealand bush
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My Submission on the proposed Fast Track Approvals Bill

My Submission

I thank the Environment Select Committee for the opportunity to make a submission on the Fast-track Approvals Bill – at least this aspect of the democratic process appears to remain.

I reject entirely the proposed Fast Track Approvals Bill (henceforth, the ‘Fast Track Bill).

I wish to make the following comments.

I am a New Zealander, currently living in Moeraki, Otago. I’m a palaeontologist – my speciality is the prehistoric vegetation and climate of Aotearoa-New Zealand. In pursuing that interest I have travelled the length and breadth of this country, sampling, publishing, and at the same time, observing and learning about our ecology. Since even before signing the Maruia Declaration of 1977 – I have been passionate about preserving what is left of our natural heritage.

A previous incarnation of ‘Fast Track’ mentality – the Muldoon government’s ‘Think Big’, impacted me personally. Half of my PhD field area – including the place were the first fossil Eucalyptus leaves and gum-nut were recovered outside of Australia, now lie under the waters of Lake Dunstan. Vast quantities of moa rock shelters, and the only decent exposure to understand the prehistory of the Cromwell Gorge, were all flooded. This was a loss of our national heritage. It’s not simply that the project went ahead – it was the lack of almost any interest in what was about to go – a few investigators were left to do what little they could, to save some data for posterity, from what was then submerged. As far as understanding our country, it was one more knife-cut, and it still rankles.

New Zealand is currently staring down the barrel of both the biodiversity crisis and climate change. As a scientist in relevant fields, I am very aware of the environmental issues we face, both globally and in our country. We are at risk of losing our fight for a Predator-Free future, wasting all the money and effort that has already been put into it, and likely suffering even more extinctions. We are losing our most ancient trees through fungal infection. We have a water quality crisis (due largely to intensification of agriculture), and our infrastructure is taking escalating hits from extreme weather events. On top of that, we are in an extraordinarily isolated and precarious geographic position. New Zealand is very exposed to global supply chain failures, which are likely to increase. Most of these issues, in some way, go back to over-development – as ‘Vanishing Nature, facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis’ (a book published by the Environmental Defence Society, and the Law Foundation, New Zealand) puts it, a result of “unsustainable production and consumption systems”. Our fight now should be to shore-up what we have left, not facilitate more development.

As a geologist (it is my basic training), I also ‘get’ mining. Mining remains the backbone of some of our established communities, and ultimately, it’s where we get much of our Stuff from. Until we can sort out alternatives, mining continues (In fact, I’m even someone who sees a beneficial side of mining to my field of research – it creates exposures where fossils can be found).

But – there is a time, place, and process to follow for such high-impact activities. We have evolved a constellation of tough Laws, Acts, Agreements, Conventions, and various other mechanisms to try and halt the decline of our environment. These help decide whether major new projects should go ahead – or not. These procedures are for a reason. They are to establish whether our environment takes too much of a hit for a proposed project to go ahead. There is certainly an argument for ‘streamlining’ resource consent. But that does not translate to ‘getting the approval for what you want to do faster’. It means a simpler, faster process – to maybe get told, ‘No’.

At this critical point in time, instead of having leaders who think these issues though, and use evidence-based inquiry, we are presented with a piece of legislation, the Fast Track Bill, that, so to say, facilitates digging the hole even deeper – without constraint.

The Fast Track Bill is clearly a process to allow development when it’s been told (sometimes repeatedly) that it shouldn’t – because it will have seriously adverse environmental consequences. The Fast Track Bill is a disgrace – it is both a way to circumvent established laws, and a power-grab that is offensive any sense of values that most New Zealanders hold. It uses Orwellian language to push through development without oversight, ‘personal responsibility’ from those pushing it, and ignoring the consequences. It uses cynical political double-speak to recast our democracy’s hard-won checks and balances as ‘red tape’. The Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 was criticised by the parties who are now pushing the Fast Track Bill – on grounds that included it was ‘more centralisation’. The Fast Track Bill centralises power to just three ministers.

Our politicians who are pushing for the Fast Track Bill know full-well that it is unethical – that’s why they are keeping the list of potential projects secret until the last minute. Secret lists smack of Stalinist. Not Kiwi. In fact, it’s now known that at least some of these projects have been invited by the government to apply. That appears to cross well over the line of corruption.

The Fast Track Bill cynically requires ‘expert panels’ to make recommendations within six months – while at the same time, the government is reducing funding to the various institutions which have the expertise or ability to do the research needed to make a recommendation. Science, Research, and in fact, any recognition of an ‘Environment’ at all – appear to be pathologically absent from both the Bill, and in the heads of those promoting it.

The Fast Track Bill not only opens this country to another wave of environmental destruction, and degradation – it risks our international ‘green’ reputation, that underlines our tourism industry. It risks our reputation of being leaders in environmental management, and basically being non-corrupt, kinda smart people.

We need a system that looks to the long-term well-being of our communities. That means, a careful consideration of our environment – something conspicuously absent from the Fast Track Bill. We need a government that considers the futures of our communities – including those ones whose livelihoods are currently based on resource-extraction. Because, at the end of the day, when the resource runs out, the environment is all that is left. Those communities will still have to make a living. If development there must be, there must be significant payback for other areas of our environment (maybe allow mining here, increase funding for environmental custodians there). At the bare minimum we need legislation that forces careful consideration of development, with input from all interested parties, while putting the environment first. We’ve already got them – one is called the Resource Management Act. The last thing our country needs, is to be led by a small group of businessmen, who haven’t the intellect to see beyond endless growth.

I reject the Fast Track Approvals Bill. We need to focus our political will on making life better for all New Zealanders – with a sustainable future. Not for the profiteering of a few, and not at the expense of our environment.

If you can’t organise a decent economy without wrecking our environment, then get out of government.

Mike Pole, PhD (Otago)



Brown, M., Stephens, T.R.T, Peart, R., and Fedder, B. 2015 ‘Vanishing Nature, facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis’. You can get a free pdf of this excellent book on the Environmental Defence Society website here.

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About the Author

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From New Zealand. Traveling the weyward path trying to figure out how the world works. I study fossil plants, past climates, travel, walk, hike, read, take photos, struggle with computer graphics and plant trees.

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