Social and environmental costs to be paid for ‘efficiency’

The coalition government has been passing multiple laws under parliamentary urgency since coming into power late last year. But a lack of public scrutiny and input to processes raises concerns among advocates for society’s vulnerable. 

WelCom May 2024

The coalition government has been passing multiple laws under parliamentary urgency since coming into power late last year. But a lack of public scrutiny and input to processes raises concerns among advocates for society’s vulnerable. 

Peter Lang Advocacy Analyst for Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand and Kelly Ross, the Archdiocese of Wellington’s Vicar for Education, comment respectively on the Fast-track Approvals Bill and the free school lunches programme – Ka Ora, Ka Ako.

The Fast-track Approvals Bill encourages catastrophic decisions that will hurt communities across New Zealand says Caritas. Image: Wetlands/DOC

Caritas opposes Fast-track Approvals Bill

Peter Lang

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, the Catholic Bishops’ social justice agency, has made a written submission strongly opposing the Government’s new Fast-track Approvals Bill.  

The bill allows large, infrastructure and development projects to skip the usual checks and balances, and to be assessed by an expert panel, then be directly approved by just three ministers, who will have the discretion to over-rule the panel’s recommendations.

The bill would put the final decisions on such projects in the hands of the Ministers for Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Development – currently Chris Bishop, Simeon Brown, and Shane Jones.

The bill is aimed at ‘speeding up the decision-making process over infrastructure and development projects’ considered to have ‘significant regional or national benefits’, potentially including roading, mining or tunnelling projects. It would establish a separate process for several approvals currently under different legislation, giving government ministers the power to circumvent key environmental planning and protection processes.

The bill has stirred significant controversy, and many voices within the Catholic community have spoken out against it. 

Caritas’ position against the bill is emphatic and grounded in Catholic social teaching. We believe it violates the principles of participation, subsidiarity, and stewardship.

Participation – nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou

‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise one listens to advice.’ – Proverbs 12:15

The bill is designed to take away communities’ voices on certain projects affecting them. Projects requiring resource consent will be assessed by expert panels, who are banned from undertaking public notification or consultation. Panels will only hear from pre-selected voices (which might be based on a list provided by the project applicant), meaning the most marginalised and vulnerable voices are likely to be excluded, as are those who speak on their behalf. Community groups, especially in rural areas, will at best be given tight timeframes for nominal consultation, and at worst will be completely excluded from decisions affecting their livelihoods. 

Subsidiarity – mana whakahaere

‘It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do.’ – Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1931

Subsidiarity tells us decisions are best made by those most affected by them. This bill will take decision-making power away from communities, local iwi and other experts, and put all the power in the hands of three ministers. 

Although expert panels give recommendations on projects, ministers have the final say, and there is no right to appeal their decisions on merit. 

Stewardship – kaitiakitanga 

‘Technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. Frequently, in fact, people’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth.’ – Pope Francis, Laudato si’, 2015

The bill gives expert panels and ministers a list of priorities to weigh when considering applications. The very first priority is ‘significant regional or national benefits’, which could be construed to mean just about anything. The bill’s priorities strongly emphasise potential economic benefits, but give almost no mention to the social, environmental and economic risks a project might bring.

The bill clearly ignores the environment – the Government doesn’t even give its own Minister for the Environment a say. We believe this is recklessly irresponsible – our environment sustains our society and economy and, is a gift from God we are entrusted to hand down to future generations. By blindly pursuing economic growth without an eye to sustaining our environment, the bill encourages catastrophic decisions that will hurt communities across New Zealand. 

You can read our full position in our submission on our website at:

More information about the Fast-track Approvals Bill:

The free school lunch programme was introduced in 2019 by the previous government, and currently offers meals to 230,000 students in about 1000 disadvantaged schools.  Photo:  Nick Monro/ RNZ

Healthy school lunches play crucial role 

The Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches Programme, established in 2019, provides nutritious free lunches to around 235,000 students each school day – about a quarter of all students. But its future is uncertain as the coalition government proposes to review the programme ahead of Budget 2024 in May, and Associate Education Minister and ACT leader David Seymour is looking to cut it by half. 

Kelly Ross

School breakfast and lunch programmes provide numerous benefits to schools, students, and their families. In 2019, a report by the Children’s Commissioner for New Zealand found approximately 14 per cent of children lived in households experiencing food insecurity. This means a notable portion of children did not consistently have access to three meals a day due to various factors including financial constraints and other socio-economic challenges.

Current data shows us the cost of living for families has steadily increased over the past five years. Providing school breakfasts and lunches helps alleviate some of the food insecurity students are experiencing. 

In the year ended June 2023 Statistics NZ found that: ‘1 in 6 children (17.5 per cent) lived in low-income households that had an after-housing-costs income that was less than 50 per cent of the baseline year’s median after-housing-costs equivalised disposable household income (measure (b)). 1 in 8 children (12.5 per cent) lived in households experiencing material hardship.’ []

Research consistently shows nutrition plays a significant role in students’ learning outcomes and overall wellbeing. Ensuring students have access to balanced meals during the day, contributes to their physical health, cognitive development, and emotional stability, ultimately enhancing their academic success and overall quality of life.

School breakfast-lunch programmes yield significant social returns by addressing food insecurity, reducing health disparities, and promoting educational equity. By ensuring all students have access to nutritious meals, regardless of their socioeconomic background, these programmes contribute to a more equitable and inclusive society.

Catholic Social Teaching is deeply rooted in the principles of human dignity, solidarity, and the common good, advocating for the welfare of all individuals, particularly the marginalised and vulnerable. By supporting initiatives that address poverty and hunger, Catholic schools uphold their mission to serve the common good and foster compassion and solidarity within their communities. 

Overall, school breakfast-lunch programmes play a crucial role in addressing food insecurity, promoting health and wellbeing, and advancing educational equity. They ensure every child has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their circumstances. Providing these programmes is an investment in our children’s future and the prosperity of society as a whole.

Kelly Ross is Vicar for Education, Archdiocese of Wellington.