Here is a blunt message to Environment Canterbury Councillors Mark Oldfield, Pat Harrow, Angus McKay, and Bronwen Murray:
In December last year you were found by the Auditor-General to have a conflict of interest regarding decisions over water resource management, since you yourselves, as holders of consents regarding water, have significant pecuniary interests in the issue.
But you persisted in participating and voting on ECan decisions involving water – including the one last week to recommend a “compromise” decision in the face of the barrel of the gun that threatens to disestablish your Regional Council and appoint a Commissioner.
Don’t you get it, Councillors? If you have a conflict of interest, you should not even be present at the meeting, let alone voting at it, when water management is being debated!
Unfortunately, the story gets even grubbier and murkier than this – and it goes right back to central Government and Rodney Hide who initiated a review of ECan after complaints of undue delays in processing water resource consents.
Former National Party Deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech was appointed to head the ECan review. At the time he was a Director of a company called Open Country Cheese Dairy Limited.
In 2007, Creech’s company Open Country Cheese was fined a total of $55,000 in the Hamilton District Court after pleading guilty to 11 charges laid by Environment Waikato relating to illegal effluent discharges and storage. So much for an impartial investigation. As someone whose company was proven in court to be complicit in illegal effluent discharges, Creech himself had a serious conflict of interest in heading an inquiry that involved water consents as its most substantial issue. His colours had already been nailed to the mast.
The review report Investigation of the Performance of Environment Canterbury, found:
Resolving water resource issues is complex and involves controversial and difficult judgments to achieve the appropriate balance between the environmental, economic, social and cultural considerations that must be taken into account. Experience to date indicates that Environment Canterbury has not managed these competing demands and interests effectively. All too frequently, the outcome has been undue delays rather than progress and frustration levels on all sides are high.
Institutional failure it may be, but with at least four ECan Councillors, despite their conflict of interest, continually pushing the interests of themselves and their mates in big dairy to extract as much water and discharge as much effluent as they want, and completely failing to address ecological considerations, no decisions were ever going to be made quickly.
The Creech review demonstrated an arrogant contempt for democracy and recommended taking all water decision-making in Canterbury away from elected representatives.
According to The Star, former National Party Prime Minister Jenny Shipley (the architect of the 1991 benefit cuts, in case you don’t recall), for whom Creech occasionally deputised as PM in the late 1990s, is now being touted as a Government-appointed Commissioner to carry out Ecan’s functions when/if Rodney Hide arbitrarily sacks all of ECan’s elected members.
So it looks like Canterbury is in for a taste of the “Auckland treatment” – local democracy gutted and decision-making handed over to unelected Ministerial appointees to ensure commercial interests, in this case big dairy, prevail over everything else – even, as Russel Norman points out, the quality of Canterbury’s drinking water.