Conservation (Infringement System) Bill: An Updated Method for Enforcing Conservation Compliance

Over the year we have communicated a lot about an increased focus on environment enforcement.  A new Bill is in place, making it easier for the Department of Conservation (DOC) and local authorities to enforce conservation offences.  The Conservation (Infringement Offences) Bill has passed its second reading, and introduces infringement notices as an additional tool for enforcement.  A similar system already exists in other areas of law, so this Bill brings conservation legislation in line with other areas.

Development of the Bill

The Conservation (Infringement System) Bill was developed and introduced by the National Party in early 2017, with input from the Department of Conservation.  It passed its first reading with the support of the whole house in February 2018.  However, it passed its second reading in November 2018 much more narrowly.

The Bill has lost the support of the National Party, after extending the power to issue infringement notices to the regional fish and game councils.  This is controversial, because New Zealand Fish and Game Council is not a government body and therefore is not subject to the same training and accountability as warranted Department of Conservation or local authority officers.  To combat these concerns, further safeguards on fish and game officers were added at Select Committee stage.

Application of the Bill

The omnibus Bill introduces infringement offences for existing offences under the following:

  • Conservation Act 1987;
  • Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978;
  • Marine Reserves Act 1971;
  • National Parks Act 1980;
  • Reserves Act 1977;
  • Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989;
  • Wild Animal Control Act 1977; and
  • Wildlife Act 1953.

An infringement offence will not be an option for all offences, as the Act recognises that prosecution will be appropriate for more serious offences.

A Department of Conservation officer issuing an infringement notice may impose an infringement fee of to $1,000.  Infringement notices may be appealed.  The Bill also provides for forfeiture of property, which the Law Society made a submission against.

Impact of the Bill

Infringement notices are intended to function as a middle ground between a warning and a prosecution, which are the current methods of enforcement of conservation offences.  Such notices are easier to implement than undergoing prosecution because of the lower administrative and financial burden.  However, infringement notices are more effective than formal warnings since there is the additional fine.

The Resource Management Act 1991 and Fisheries (Infringement Offences) Regulations 2001 already provide for similar infringement systems.  The first tranche of the government’s reforms of the RMA seek to increase infringement notices to $4,000 fines.  This new Bill will bring conservation offences in line with the range of options available under such laws.

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