Has Nick Smith made the right call?
OPINION: Not every intrusion by a politician counts as meddling.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith has made the right decision to relieve his department of the decision on the proposed Milford Dart Tunnel and Fiordland Link Experience monorail.
He will make the calls himself.
Ordinarily that would give rise to the suspicion that this is the act of a minister who sees a popular decision in the offing and wants to be the one credited for it.
The rather large problem with this notion is that whichever way he goes on these two, there will be a great many unhappy people.
These are contentious proposals and the decision is, rightly, being treated as a political one.
When Dr Smith says these are public lands and it is proper that decisions are made by a publicly elected and accountable official, he is perhaps mounting a case that could be applied to pretty much any decision his department makes regarding public land.
But he is right to identify the scale and intensely controversial nature of the ventures as elevating them into the political realm.
That is, in purely political terms, realistic.
This is perhaps less a case of a minister stepping into the firing line than accepting he's in it anyway and reacting accordingly.
Even if he left it to his department to make the decision, whichever way it went he would still be the target of reproach for the aggrieved section of the public.
They would conclude either that he was a duck-shoving wimp, or that his hand was heavily at play in the decision anyway, and he was just trying to dodge accountability.
Dr Smith rightly describes his task as balancing the "particularly high threshold" for projects within our national park boundaries against the country's needs for jobs and economic development.
It won't pass notice that he is doing far more than burying himself in DOC reports.
He will visit the areas, meet the commissioners who heard the public submissions, and the applicants, and the New Zealand Conservation Authority.
These are the actions of a minister who wants to avoid either the reality or the perception, or both, of a decision based only on information already nicely filtered for him by his own department.
Dr Smith has made clear that he sees these as "difficult" decisions.
In terms of the detail required, indeed they are.
Certainly not so simple that both schemes can be rejected, pretty much out of hand, as eviscerations of the integrity of the national park.
In terms of scale they are pretty much pencil lines on what will still be a vast, beautiful - and yes, unspoilt - wilderness.
It will make a trip into Fiordland more accessible and attractive for many.
So for our part, on balance, we still like both proposals.
- The Southland Times
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