Michael Stokes

The power of parliament to amend the permit for the Pulp Mill under the Pulp Mill Assessment Act.
The Pulp Mill Assessment Act gives the parliament a statutory power to accept or reject the permit. It is clear that in the exercise of the power, parliament is acting as a statutory authority rather than as parliament. Therefore its powers are limited to those which the Act confers on it. Under section 7(2) of the Act, the parliament only has the power to accept or reject the permit, not amend it:
7. Approval of project

(1) The project is approved if –

(a) the consultant reports to the Minister under section 4(3) that the project should proceed; and

(b) each House of Parliament, by resolution, accepts the Pulp Mill Permit.

(2) Each House of Parliament, by resolution, is to accept or reject the Pulp Mill Permit within 5 sitting-days from the day on which it is laid before the House.

Although the parliament does not have power to amend the permit, it can use the power to reject to force amendments. There is nothing improper or illegal in its so doing. It has a duty to force changes if it believes that the mill should proceed but under different conditions from those in the permit. Under the Act, section 6, the relevant Minister has the responsibility of preparing the permit and submitting it to parliament for its consideration and therefore has the power to withdraw the permit and replace it with an amended one:
Section 7
(8) The Minister is to prepare a permit, to be called the “Pulp Mill Permit”, containing the substance of the conditions recommended by a relevant person under subsection (4) and other matters specified under subsection (7).

(9) The Minister must cause the report of the consultant and the Pulp Mill Permit to be laid before each House of Parliament by no later than 31 August 2007.

(10) The Minister may table in each House of Parliament any other report that in the Minister’s opinion is relevant to the project at the same time as the Minister causes the report and Pulp Mill Permit to be tabled under subsection (9).

If parliament decides that the permit needs to be amended in any way, it has the option of declining to accept the permit until the Minister makes the required amendments. If the Minister declines to do so, parliament has options other than rejecting the permit outright. It may defer the vote on the permit until such time as the Minister relents.

If this occurs, it may mean that the time periods specified in the Act are not met in that the final permit may not be laid before each House of parliament before 31 August as required by section 7(9) and parliament may not resolve to accept or reject the permit within the five sitting days permitted by section 7(2) of the Act. In my opinion, failure to comply with these provisions is not mandatory in that it will not invalidate the permit because it is most unlikely that parliament intended to impose binding time constraints of this nature on itself and because failure to comply with the time limits is not such a serious procedural error that it should result in invalidity. A failure to comply does not take away anyone’s rights or result in any other injustice, so it should not affect the outcome.