Previously known as Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics PSRGNZ - Charitable Trust
As required under the new 2005 Charities Act, PSGR has reregistered as a charitable trust.

10 March 2016

Local Government and Environment Select Committee
Select Committee Services
Parliament Buildings

This submission is to the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament on 26 November 2015, and specifically with reference to the Clause 105 new section 360D Regulations that permit or prohibit certain rules – and particularly to clause 1(b):

(1) The Governor-General may, by Order in Council made on the recommendation of the Minister, make regulations (b) to prohibit a local authority from making specified rules or specified types of rules:

The Trustees and Members of PSGR are opposed to the insertion of this new section 360D 1 (b).  This clause has the potential to allow central Government to over-ride decisions and regulations made by a local authority at the instigation of the public.

We strongly oppose this section and urge the committee to remove it. The clause and any other clauses having a similar negative outcome should not be included in the Bill.

As it stands, the new section gives the Minister for the Environment the power to issue regulations to prevent or remove rules detailed in council planning documents that in his opinion duplicate, overlap, or deal with the same subject matter in other legislation.  It enables Ministerial dismissal of comprehensive community consultation and the efforts of a major percentage of residents in Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay, and also elsewhere, who have worked tirelessly to protect their environment for more than a decade because of concern over the lack of independent qualified attention given by the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority, and formerly the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).

It also enables Ministerial dismissal of the valid and qualified work of many of New Zealand's academics and scientists by elected Ministers who may not be qualified to make such decisions, or who may be misadvised.

Section 360D opens serious risks of arbitrary and anti-democratic outcomes based on those who are frequently unqualified decision makers, or have a vested or commercial interest.

One potential abuse of this clause is in the current Minister's proposal to overrule local government plans on genetically engineered organisms and to delete related clauses on the basis that they duplicate central governance through the EPA under the HSNO Act.  Many of these extant regional policies have been fought for and established by the public through submissions to Councils because the populace is not satisfied with the way central government's organisation of rules relating to genetically engineered organisms have been established or are handled.  Local Government NZ have raised similar concerns.

There is value in having ideas and community values contested and debated in a democratic process that responds to the community wishes rather than having them overruled and dismissed as the new clause will allow the Minister to do.

Another relevant concern is the membership of New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority.  None of its members is trained in toxicology.  One member only is involved in an environmental consultancy.  The remaining seven have a background in governance, corporate management, finance or the law.  We do not question their corporate and business skills, but do question what professional expertise they bring to serving New Zealand's environmental or public health interests that warrant dismissal of the rights of regions and people.  This is of concern particularly given New Zealand has qualified academics and scientists speaking out and being ignored.

We support local democracy and the right of Regions to choose.

If these sweeping powers were to be misused to block regional policies on genetically engineered organisms it would create a regulatory vacuum over time.  The EPA ceases to have oversight of the transgenic organisms it authorises for full release, but the costs of managing any future or ongoing problems are socialised onto the very regions and communities that would be denied the capacity to set rules.

Communities in the US have witnessed and experienced how devastating these ongoing problems can be.  Local oversight and the right to sanction control is essential.

In summary, we strongly oppose this section and changes to the RMA that can be used to subvert local democracy.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission.

We are unable to attend to speak to this submission.

The Trustees and Members of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility Charitable Trust