The Government’s promise to spend $3 billion creating shovel ready jobs for those unemployed because of Covid-19 has run into a Parliamentary logjam.
The legislation to fast track resource consents, which is a key element in creating the jobs, is still in the Economic Development Select Committee.
National MP, Judith Collins, suggested to the Committee that was because the Greens had held the legislation up.
Jones was only too happy not to deny that and then for the second day running he was attacking the Greens with a catalogue of issues where he suggested their views were obstructing either Infrastructure projects or Provincial Growth Fund ones.
In the meantime, until the fastrack legislation is passed, possibly next week, he cannot announce which of the 1924 projects can start. He said some smaller ones could already have resource consent, but otherwise, he was waiting for the legislation.
Even then, the fast track legislation will require that each consent application be heard by an Environment Court judge and two assessors.
“With the fast-tracking RMA legislation that was talked about in April and in May, we still haven’t seen that,” said Collins.
Well, obviously, in order to bring legislation to the House, there is three elements of the coalition that have to vote for it,” said Jones.
“They have now voted for it, and now the proposed legislation is in the House and the House is in charge of it.”
Collins: “So, in other words, the Green Party held it up?”
Jones: “Well, they voted for the kaupapa to come into Parliament. Look, I don’t want to provide a riposte to Honorable James Shaw’s remarks yesterday. I’ll avoid that. I’ll say those face to face.”
Collins: “Sounds like happy families.”
Jones, however, remained optimistic that his “shovel ready” projects would appear soon.
“I have not taken a paper to the full cabinet,” he said.
“It’s my expectation that it will happen in a very, very short period of time,” he said.
“It’s my expectation of those projects that some will be of a national character, and after we’ve plumbed into perhaps some of the less, I wouldn’t say obscure, but projects that do need more probity checking, then they’ll be rolled out partially before the election and obviously well beyond the election.”
But, said Jones, someone would need to manage the allocations once they were made and hinted that after the election that might not be NZ First.
“So we need someone to do that, irrespective of where the electoral darts land,” he said.
“A future government is going to have to rely on an agency.”
But Jones kept coming back to the resource Management Act.
Asked by Labour MP, Meka Whaitiri, what his role was in getting the fast track legislation going he had to confess that he might have jumped the gun.
“My role in the New Zealand media was to announce that the government would then do it without David Parker having actually started it,” he said.
“That’s where this thing started.
“It’s been my view since I came into politics that our country is ensnared unnecessary reams of red tape.
“I, along with Denis Church, Cathryn Ashley- Jones and Joan Allen, was employed by Geoffrey Palmer in 1988 to write the First Resource Management Act.
“So I’m an expert on that act.
“So once I came back as a provincial growth minister, it is my view that the functioning of the Resource Management Act is inversely related to the quality of our environment. That’s what I think.”
This was not surprisingly music to the ears of one Committee member, West Coast-based list MP, Maureen Pugh, from the West Coast.
She even suggested that the jobs could be found on the West Coast without any funding needed if only access was allowed to DOC’s stewardship land — the fate of which is still being determined by Green MP and Conservation Minister, Eugenie Sage.
“I did not have a mandate to drive extractive investments,” said Jones in reference to a number of proposals to mine stewardship land.
And then he continued to list areas where he considered the Greens to be a problem.
“We tried to do a garnet mine and a few other things, but that really did stretch the envelope that I was operating in,” he said.
“And I think the real answer to that lies after the next election.
“But I don’t want to shy away from the fact that we are a coalition of three parties and my colleagues that came into politics to effect an outcome which is different than my view about stewardship land.
“And there has been a body of work that Minister Eugenie Sage has been bringing forward to do a stewardship plan.
“But I’ve never hidden that I am pro extractive industries.”
It is not only DOC’s attitude to mining on stewardship land that upsets the Minister but its overall attitudes.
Committee Chair, and National MP for New Plymouth, Jonathan Young, asked why it was taking so long to upgrade the Taranaki crossing track which had been originally funded in 2017.
“I want to avoid engaging in any personal slanging match with Minister Eugenie Sage because I’ll come off second best so I won’t do it,” he said.
“But I have found that the Department of Conservation, with their strictures and the various rules that they have on the DOC estate, which in itself is almost like a different statutory regime, I don’t mind sharing with you, and I found that I’ve been bobbled by it,” he said.
“To me, this project has taken too long.’
At this point, the Minister regressed to a previous role as chair of the Maori Fisheries Commission and then Pacific Fisheries Ambassador and took aim at a high profile Greens campaign to save Maui’s dolphin.
“I believe in fishing,” he said.
“I don’t believe in dogma.”
“I don’t believe there’s really a Maui’s dolphin.
“They are all Hectors dolphins.
“So I’m totally disinterested in jobs and industries being destroyed when we don’t take a full account of God’s endowment, Mother Nature’s endowment to us.
“I came into politics with that view, and whenever I go, I’m not going to change that view.”
That was too much for Green MP, Gareth Hughes.
“I’m intrigued by the Maui’s dolphins point you made; they are not like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus,” said Hughes.
Jones: “You know, there is no such thing as Maui’s dolphins; they are definitely a subspecies. They are species of Hector’s dolphin. It’s the difference between the Tongans and the Biafrans; they are both humans.”
Hughes: “They have been separate since the Pleistocene.”
Jones: “No, they have not.”
The Sea Shepherd marine protest organisation is currently suing the US Federal Government and its National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calling for a ban on New Zealand fish imports until New Zealand comes up with a way to halt the killing of the dolphins.
Maui’s dolphins is a brand that is virtually being deified,” said Jones.
“I don’t know if there’s sixty-five or seventy-three,” he said.
It is surely one of politics larger ironies that a politician so unashamedly not an environmentalist should now find that his election-year showpiece, the shovel-ready jobs programme, is being held up waiting for a fast track environmental protection law to be passed.