The win for Mataura is a win for everyone

Dross being removed from the Mataura paper mill. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Dross being removed from the Mataura paper mill. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
On Tuesday, Parliament’s environment select committee reported back on the petition of Mark Patterson to remove aluminium dross from the Mataura paper mill.

Initially, this might strike one as being a waste of time, the Government having triumphantly announced last month that all 10,000tonnes of the potentially toxic material had been removed from the mill.

However, the environment committee has been unusually proactive about this petition, brought by Lawrence farmer and former New Zealand First list MP Mr Patterson.

The petition could have lapsed at the end of the last Parliament but the former committee instead chose to reinstate it as part of its workload for the new Parliament.

By this time there was legal action afoot over the future of dross, as well as complex backroom negotiations, so it was a welcome move that there continued to be parliamentary scrutiny of what was an utterly unsustainable situation.

Mr Patterson was fond of claiming that the dross, which would have given off lethal gasses had it got soaked — and lest we forget the Mataura paper mill sits right beside a river which has flooded in recent memory — would never have lingered in the Southland town for so long if it had been in Auckland or Wellington.

In its final report, the environment committee, which includes Dunedin Labour list MP Rachel Brooking, took Mr Patterson’s argument on board, and then some.

‘‘We remain concerned that the Mataura community had to contend with the risk of hazardous substances being stored in their community without an adequate risk assessment and any community involvement in the decision,’’ it said.

‘‘Although progress has been made at the Mataura paper mill site, we realise that other communities are likely to be facing similar situations with hazardous substances and waste.’’

Those ‘‘other communities’’ include some in Southland, as dross was stored in places other than Mataura.

Graffiti on the Mataura paper mill. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER
Graffiti on the Mataura paper mill. PHOTO: CRAIG BAXTER
Waste is also an issue in the Deep South, as questions turn to what sort of remediation work will need to be done once the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, the creator of the controversial dross, eventually shuts up shop.

‘‘The petitions drew to our attention that there can be shortcomings in establishing legal liability for hazardous materials and waste.

‘‘The ministry pointed out that local and central government are often the parties that are left as last person standing to fund any clean-up operations.’’

Essentially, the issue of toxic waste falls somewhere between the Resource Management Act and the Hazardous Substances Act, but no-one appears to be entirely sure where.

Both the ministry and the Environmental Protection Authority are working on ways to improve that, but the report emphasised that MPs needed to do their bit too, recommending that the Government progress policy work to improve hazardous substance regulations and consider the issue as part of reform of the RMA.

Coincidentally, a Bill amending the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act had its first reading this week, so the select committee process should afford a chance for some of the committee’s concerns to be explored.

More broadly, this chapter of the ongoing dross saga shows Parliament and the petition process at its best.

Bringing a petition kept the issue in the public arena, and the environment select committee’s active interest in it was integral to a solution being found for Mataura.

But the committee’s recognition of the wider issue may well result in new and better laws in this area, something which would be welcome not just in Southland but further afield.

Fever pitch

Speaking of the Hazardous Substances Bill, Ms Brooking — who is fast developing a reputation for finding joy in parts of the Parliamentary process few other MPs relish — was well up for its arrival in the House on Tuesday night.

‘‘I’m delighted to be able to make a short contribution,’’ she started before National MP Scott Simpson interjected, ‘‘Say it again with meaning!’’

For which Ms Brooking needed no invitation: ‘‘Ha, ha, I’m very excited about this HSNO Amendment Bill,’’ she trilled.

National Invercargill MP Penny Simmonds was also excited about the Bill, but for different reasons.

‘‘We support it not just because it is dull but worthy, as my colleagues have somewhat unkindly characterised it, but mainly because it’s such a shock that this Labour Government is promoting anything that might address and reduce time-consuming, resource-intensive, inefficient and cumbersome bureaucratic processes, because quite frankly, most of the Bills

they put up for us to deliberate on have exactly the opposite aim and effect.’’

Passing the test

Wednesday’s second reading of the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill offered a chance for reminiscing for Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse.

‘‘In early 2009, when I was a very fresh, new member of Parliament, I was a member of what was known then as the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee and the first Bill that brought the roadside impairment test regime in was being considered by that committee,’’ he recalled.

‘‘One of the senior members on that committee, the Hon Trevor Mallard ... decided that the newest member of the committee should actually embark on that test, so in the middle of the select committee room 4, in front of the media and a number of officials, I actually walked the line, touched my toes, turned around, did all of the things that needed to be done on a roadside impairment test.’’

Happily, Mr Woodhouse was deemed fit to continue his legislative duties.

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