King Salmon Process an Affront to Democracy?
by Tony Orman
The King Salmon application for new salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds and process reflects an alarming trend towards the dilution, indeed removal, of democracy by government.
A recent Environmental Defence Society (EDS) press release said “the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has initiated a process to give King Salmon an ‘easy ride’ for approvals for new salmon farms in the protected Outer Marlborough Sounds.”
The Environmental Defence Society further added “MPI is essentially acting as a co-applicant for approvals that will override the Marlborough Council’s plans that prohibit aquaculture development in the Outer Sounds and that protect scenic and landscape values.”
The government’s process EDS described, allows the Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy to make regulations that bypass normal RMA processes. Yet the Marlborough Council is currently reviewing its plans, the proper place for making decisions about aquaculture. But it seems government reckons otherwise and knows best.
But does it?
The King Salmon saga will allow a Ministerial decision already backing King Salmon’s commercial interest to override the broader public interest. Worst of all, the locally council, democratically elected and the people of Marlborough are being denied any voice. Well not quite, for submissions are being heard by a panel. Closer scrutiny shows any semblance to true democracy ends. The panel is politically appointed by the Minister, on the advice of MPI bureaucrats.
The Environmental Defence Society agrees saying “The process is a questionable one. It invites people to make written submissions, which will be considered by a panel appointed by government. There is no provision for cross-examination of experts and so the hearing lacks robustness. The panel makes recommendations to the Minister who decides with no rights of appeal (by the public).”
In short, it’s lip service to democracy.
Recently Minister for the Environment Nick Smith took full control of the spreading of ecosystem poisons 1080 and brodifacoum, stripping any say by regional and district councils and therefore the public. Smith argued it was for a more consistent approach. Yet mostly poisons are spread on public lands. The land owners, i.e. the public, now have no voice in the spreading of toxins on their lands.
Two years ago, government allowed foreign mineral and oil companies to drill along the coast and in conservation parks – all public property. Energy minister Simon Bridges signed approval in cavalier fashion so much so that when later asked, he didn’t know where one exploration area, the Lewis Pass’ Victoria Forest Park, was. The public was denied any democratic right to comment.
Recent “reforms” to the Resource Management Act similarly weaken the people’s voice. Again power in the regions has been diluted but dramatically increased in central government. The changes are not about reforming and improving law; they are about concentrating total power and control in central government and its individual ministers. The changes essentially weaken laws about such vital matters as controlling urban sprawl and protecting rivers and streams (already degraded or under threat) and coastal areas such as the Marlborough Sounds..
The late John F Kennedy US president once wrote, “The race between education and erosion, between wisdom and waste, has not run its course. Each generation must deal anew with the raiders, the scramble to use public resources for private profit. and with the tendency to prefer short-run profits to long-term necessities.”
The scramble by the raiders is on.
People are becoming more and more aware of the increasing worldwide ecological crisis. One fact is undeniable – the earth carries many times too many people for both resources and environmental well-being. In New Zealand, the first Europeans established an egalitarian society of social equality, where resources were public. The alternative to this society is to allow vital elements alienated into private hands by private deals for private profits.
Basically that deal is underway with King Salmon. King Salmon’s farm occupies public seabed space for which no rates nor rental is paid.
New Zealand vital resources, essentially owned by the public, in land, water, soil, forest and the public domain generally, must be jealously guarded by New Zealanders that is if we cannot expect our elected representatives in Parliament to look after the public interest.
It is only proper that laws pertaining to the environment and public resources should allow the public full and proper voice. Any commercial exploitation of any public resource should be open to scrutiny and challenge.
Massive power is concentrated in corporates. The corporates woo weak politicians and power-hungry political parties with substantial party donations. Yet ironically the people expect elected representatives to protect the public good.
But when those elected representatives weaken or remove the public’s right to exercise scrutiny and challenge, then it’s a sad day indeed.
Democracy is under severe stress.
Footnote: Tony Orman is a former town and country planner with the former Marlborough County Council.