Last line of defence: compliance, monitoring and enforcement of New Zealand's environmental law

Published with the assistance of the New Zealand Law Foundation
Environment Conservation Law enforcement Environmental law New Zealand

Enforcement of environmental law is a growing field throughout the world and one which is rapidly changing. In recent times, New Zealand too has undergone a swift evolution in practice. The purpose of this report is to explain the role and importance of enforcing environmental compliance and to provide an empirical snapshot of how it is practised in New Zealand. The report explores the difficult and concerning issues that enforcement raises, identifies promising areas of innovation, and proposes some potential further solutions. Poor compliance and weak enforcement can result in regulatory failure and serious environmental harm. Evaluating environmental enforcement practice provides valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of a regime and helps to better target expenditure and effort to areas most likely to reduce risk of harm. This report has three key aims:

  1. To outline the role and the importance of compliance, monitoring and enforcement (CME) of environmental law

  2. To demonstrate empirically the current state of play in CME around the country and across several agencies and several regimes

  3. To identify key issues and solutions that will assist in strengthening regulatory outcomes

The report was completed following an extensive mixed method research approach. Chapter One provides context and an overview for the reader, including briefly canvassing key background material for those unfamiliar with environmental law enforcement. Chapter Two presents an empirical account of the workings of several (although not all) environmental law regimes around New Zealand. Chapter Three summarises that information and distils the highlights and the lowlights, the latter of which are attended to in Chapter Four.

The enforcement of environmental legal requirements is generally fraught with complexities, sometimes severely under-resourced and often vulnerable to dissuasion for political ends. In order to achieve the purpose of our legislation, maintain the public’s confidence in our agencies and protect our natural heritage, systemic issues in CME must be resolved, with significant improvement required across four key areas

  • Enhancing the legal basis of enforcement

  • Bolstering capacity and capability of agencies

  • Ensuring regulator independence

  • Tracking progress and auditing outcomes

For each agency considered, key observations are summarised and recommendations are set out in brief.

Wider recommendations

  1. Develop enhanced capacity and resources to provide oversight of the activities of environmental enforcement agencies, including investigating public concerns regarding administration of the function and the independence of decision-making.

  2. Continue to improve the monitoring and reporting processes of environmental enforcement agencies, including through the reporting programme of Crown Law’s Public Prosecution Unit

  3. Develop training for local body elected officials on the CME role to clarify that CME is an operational matter and that there needs to be a clear separation from governance.

  4. Examine institutional frameworks across all environmental legislation to consider whether or not they are fit for purpose

  5. Develop enhanced protocols and procedures to enable regulatory stewardship by environmental enforcement agencies. Many deficiencies in legislation are well known by implementing officers

  6. Develop more robust career pathways for natural environment-based enforcement officers in councils and other agencies to increase recognition, demonstrate capacity and reduce turnover rates.

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