The Local Government and Environment Committee has reported on the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill. Unusually for a Government Bill, the Select Committee was unable to agree that the Bill be passed.
The Bill proposes amendments to the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010. In response to a breakdown in relationships with Canterbury's local authorities and in freshwater management planning, this Act replaced Environment Canterbury's elected council members with Government-appointed commissioners and suspended rights of merits appeal to the Environment Court on resource management planning and policy framework decisions.
The Bill would extend these arrangements, postponing elections from 2013 to 2016 and continuing to prohibit merit appeals to the Environment Court. The Government considers that the challenges leading to the 2010 legislation require further time to resolve and that governance continuity is essential to the Canterbury earthquakes recovery process.
The Select Committee disagreed as to whether these challenges justify the continued suspension of regional council democracy and rights of appeal. The minority report of Labour, the Green Party and New Zealand First cites submissions, including from the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, arguing that the Bill's suspension of local democracy was a breach of human rights and of international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. With National MPs comprising just six of the Select Committee's 12 members (and no Government support party MPs), it appears there was a deadlock with the six opposition MPs.
The Bill's second reading will take place in the New Year, and a Bill can still proceed through its second reading without Select Committee approval. The Select Committee report can be accessed here.