6. Conservation Land—Milford Dart Tunnel Proposal
[Sitting date: 18 September 2012. Volume:684;Page:10. Text is subject to correction.]
6. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Has she considered making the decision herself on Milford Dart Ltd's concession application for a private bus tunnel, rather than delegating it to a Department of Conservation manager; if not, why not?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation) : I have considered it and have been advised that there is a long-held convention, under successive Governments, that concessions under the Conservation Act are normally decided at departmental level. In fact, there have been more than 10,000 concessions considered under the Conservation Act in the past 10 years, decided by a delegated decision maker, not the Minister. Although this does not mean that intervention would never be justified, I am comfortable letting the normal process run its course.
Eugenie Sage: Why will she not make the decision herself, when the proposed private road tunnel would affect two majestic national parks and the internationally important Te Wāhipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am aware that there are many issues in relation to the application, and there is no doubt that this is a contentious issue. I have delegated this to the level of director-general to ensure a robust process is followed, free from interference, whether political or otherwise, as is the long-followed practice. I would consider the decision to grant the Kaituna dam proposal during the final term of the Labour-Green Government was contentious also, and I note that this was, like all the others, delegated from the former Minister to the department.
Eugenie Sage: In leaving the decision to a departmental official has she taken account of the high public interest in protecting Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park, with 25,000 people, more than 2,000 of them from overseas, signing a petition calling for Fiordland National Park not to be dug up?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: That member is able to make unqualified statements of opinion, but as Minister I do not have that same luxury as it could be seen as interference in the decision-making process. It would not be in the public interest for me to comment further at this stage as it could compromise or jeopardise that statutory process, and it is important to remember that either or both parties, the applicant and/or the objector, can seek judicial review of a decision not made in accordance with proper process.
Eugenie Sage: If the Minister will not give an assurance that she will make the decision on such a large private commercial use of two national parks, what type of commercial concession application would she decide, or does she want to avoid approving a development that would severely compromise the parks and the World Heritage area?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The member is asking a hypothetical question. I am dealing with applications that are on the table at the moment that are going through their proper statutory process, free from political interference or otherwise.
Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister believe that an appropriate way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Fiordland National Park is to dig a tunnel in it and through Mount Aspiring National Park, and is she worried that instead of attracting tourists to visit a pristine Middle Earth, the journey will have to be rebranded as a visit to Mordor?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I can only repeat what I have already answered. That member is able to make totally unqualified statements of opinion. I am concerned with making sure that the proper process goes through its course, to make sure that there is less chance of judicial review from either side, and to make sure that proper process is obeyed.
Eugenie Sage: I seek leave to table a plan map produced by URS for Milford Dart Ltd showing the location of the proposed tunnel adjacent to the start of the Routeburn track walked by 11,000 people each year.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Denis O'Rourke: Is the Minister concerned that if the tunnel is built, it would irrevocably damage towns like Te Ānau, which are dependent on the slow tourism market, or does the Government just want to encourage large-scale low-employment operations that profit only a few wealthy investors?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: That is yet another unqualified statement of opinion. In relation to that question, I am more concerned that proper process is complied with free from interference, political or otherwise.