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'Compelling case' for Govt intervention, Parliament told

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Nick Smith
Nick Smith

By Peter Wilson of NZPA

Wellington, March 30 NZPA - Environment Canterbury's water management was so bad that immediate government intervention was necessary, Parliament was told tonight.

Environment Minister Nick Smith was speaking during the first reading on a bill, introduced under urgency, which gives the Government the power to appoint commissioners to replace the council and take over the region's resource management.

"You've got people flexing their muscles over water while the weakened referee, Environment Canterbury (ECan), is struggling to maintain order," Dr Smith said.

"Allocation decisions are ad hoc, water quality is deteriorating, storage opportunities are being lost in the muddle."

Dr Smith said long-standing systemic issues relating to ECan's performance had reached a critical stage.

"The Canterbury community has lost faith in the ability of ECan to deliver on its statutory responsibilities," he said.

"The views of the people of Canterbury are very clear to me -- that it has been patently obvious, for a number of years, that something needed to be done."

Dr Smith said the threshold for intervention in local government was high, and could only happen when there was serious failure.

"The Government's intervention is required for three reasons," he said.

"The council has failed to effectively manage Canterbury's fresh water, it does not have a fully operational regional plan and policy framework for resource management, and there is an enormous gap between what needs to be done to effectively manage water in Canterbury and the council's ability to do so.

"There is a compelling case for immediate and direct intervention by government."

Dr Smith said the ECan election in October this year would be deferred until the commissioners had completed their task.

"But, under whatever circumstances, the next regional council elections in Canterbury will take place no later than those scheduled for late 2013."

Labour's Christchurch Central MP Brendon Burns, the party's associate environment spokesman, said the bill was "a constitutional outrage on a whole number of levels".

"It replaces Environment Canterbury's elected councillors with government-appointed commissioners," he said.

"This will disenfranchise the voters of Canterbury for the next three-and-a-half years. This isn't a quick fix, it's a long-term assault on democracy."

Mr Burns said the Government was going to pass the bill, under urgency, without any chance for public submissions.

"What we're seeing is National and ACT removing a democratically elected council so Nick Smith and his colleagues can run the decisions in Canterbury in terms of water.

"That's what this is about. People in my province will not get a chance to have a say on who manages their water, their public transport, their Clean Air Act, their coastal environment, for the next three-and-a-half long years."

(Lead later to update progress of bill)

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