GE Free New Zealand in Food & Environment, 30th October 2003

Dismay as ERMA blocks hundreds from GE Hearings

The ERMA decision to hold hearings into the GE onions application only in Christchurch, and without giving pre-allocated times to speak over a three-day period has made it impossible for hundreds of people who made submissions to participate.

Minister Marian Hobbs said yesterday: "We have established a system that allows people to have their say on these applications, and I encourage those wishing to do so to use the system."

Yet even before the moratorium had ended the system that is supposed to involve the public was excluding them.

Despite many pleas for the ERMA to hold hearings in other parts of New Zealand, they have refused to do so, and have no funding to allow public participation. This is an outrage given the large public subsidy given to applicants and revealed this week.

" We are concerned that the ERMA system is not set up to allow public involvement. This is already proving to be the case," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. Public interest groups are worried that ERMA has not addressed the issues raised in an independent audit of the organisation. The government appears to have done nothing to gauge if the required changes have really happened, and so far the ERMA seems to be unmoved that it needs to change in fundamental ways.

" The ERMA are refusing to evolve as any viable organisation must do- especially after an independent audit reveals major structural flaws in values, culture and process, says Mr Carapiet.

GE Free NZ in food and environment will work with the ERMA to address these major problems. However unless some solution is quickly found the ERMA's legitimacy will be undermined and the system will break down.

The ERMA are required under the HSNO act to fulfill certain duties as they make decisions: but cutting the majority of public submitters out of the hearings is not supposed to be one of them.

When you have nearly 2000 public submissions and a quarter of those are asking to be heard, it is a breakdown in proper process if only a score of people ever get allowed to appear at the hearings.

If Minister Marian Hobbs really believes in a public dialogue she should be concerned and take action over the fact that hundreds of people are being silenced as the ERMA machine pushes on.

Jon Carapiet- 09 815 3370

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