Bryce Edwards: Time for “Fast-Track Watch”

Bryce Edwards: Time for “Fast-Track Watch”

Calling all journalists, academics, planners, lawyers, political activists, environmentalists, and other members of the public who believe that the relationships between vested interests and politicians need to be scrutinised. We need to work together to make sure that the new Fast-Track Approvals Bill – currently being pushed through by the government – works in the public interest, and doesn’t encourage corruption and lobbying that produces poor decisions.

A bright light needs to be shone on the whole process, in which three ministers will be able to greenlight projects such as mining or housing development without the usual resort to the Resource Management Act processes. As I wrote about in early March, the whole new Fast-Track process will inevitably encourage closer linkages between vested interests and politicians, risking cronyism in decision-making – see: The Government’s new fast-track invitation to corruption

Because the normal democratic processes will be bypassed for projects chosen by the three ministers, what will be sorely needed is scrutiny from outside. I’m therefore proposing to run a campaign of analysis and awareness about everything to do with the new Fast-Track process, but especially of the projects that are being lined up for inclusion in the Schedules being inserted into the Bill. So far there has been a dangerous lack of transparency about this process – especially about which businesses and organisations are being invited to submit projects. Overall, the ethos of this reform programme seems alarmingly secretive and anti-democratic.

The name that I’m proposing for this campaign is “Fast-Track Watch” (Hashtag: #FastTrackWatch), to be hosted by the Democracy Project, which I run at Victoria University of Wellington. The main vehicle and output for this investigation and scrutiny will be a series of columns I’ll send out on the Substack platform, which I will make available to all media for free publication. Together, I hope that this campaign will be something of a watchdog on the Fast-Track activities.

In order to analyse the various organisations and businesses involved, and particularly their linkages with each other and politicians, I’ll be using the research databases I am developing as part of my broader programme of work on vested interests at the University. I will try to identify potential conflicts of interest and dubious relationships involved.

But I will also need the help of others: I’m hoping to crowdsource information about the potential Fast-Track projects and processes. Likewise, if you’re a journalist or involved in media, please contact me if you want to collaborate in any way to help get material out to the public that helps keep scrutiny on the Fast-Track processes.

There will, of course, be many bona fide projects and proposals that deserve to be given resource consents or even fast-tracked by the government. This campaign isn’t against development per se, but merely being done to provide additional scrutiny and transparency, so that there is less chance of unscrupulous and damaging projects getting through the Fast-Track process simply because they’ve employed smart lobbyists, or have good connections with politicians and officials.

Dr Bryce Edwards

Political Analyst in Residence, Director of the Democracy Project, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington

This article can be republished for free under a Creative Commons copyright-free license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project (https://democracyproject.nz)