Editorial - Murky waterways appeal

The Key Government has made no apologies for tipping the balance between economic and environment interests in favour of development. Prime Minister John Key put growth and jobs at the top of his agenda when he named his Cabinet after the general election last year. Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has pressed for changes to the Resource Management Act to ease the path for mining, oil exploration and other new projects, and Finance Minister Bill English champions whatever will increase business productivity.

The Minister of Conservation - it seems - is helping her colleagues by promoting conservation less enthusiastically than they are promoting economic growth. Her department supported a Fish and Game appeal to the Environment Court against elements of the highly contentious Horizons Regional Council "One Plan" aimed at protecting waterways. The court ruling effectively made farmers and horticulturists more accountable for nutrient run-off and leaching, significantly increasing their need to go through costly and time-consuming resource-consent procedures.

Most critically, the ruling set a precedent for other regional councils and was of particular significance to dairy-producing regions like the Waikato.

Federated Farmers and Horticulture NZ lodged an appeal. We should not be surprised. A great deal is at stake.

But this time Fish and Game is on its own. Its chief executive, Bryce Johnson, said yesterday he had urged Kate Wilkinson to stand firm and ensure DOC was represented in the High Court.

Fairfax News NZ confirmed that Ms Wilkinson has decided not to join the appeal on her department's advice because the appeal concerns questions of law.

As Mr Johnson points out, this means the burden of defending the Environment Court's decision has fallen on Fish and Game, a non-profit organisation.

Federated Farmers and Horticulture NZ can argue they are non-profit organisations, too, of course, and farmers and growers would further argue the Government should keep out of it. But environmentalists and conservationists will be disappointed and feel let down by the minister.

Waikato Times